Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Note About the Blog:

Dear friends and readers,

Posts are going to be sparse around here for the next week or so. I will be away from the blog and out-of-state because of a family medical emergency.
I'll be back on the job in early April.

In the meantime, I hope not too many readers will stay away for long. In lieu of fresh material, please explore those archives on the right; there are many TV, movie and toy flashbacks to enjoy...and some Saturday morning cult tv blogging too. Remember Push: Nevada? Logan's Run: The Series? Well, if so, check out my episode-by-episode posts.

So please, plan on returning to the blog in about a week's time...I have lots of new material and exciting surprises planned for the months ahead as Reflections on Film and TV approaches its one year anniversary on April 17. Some very exciting career announcements and site news are pending. One of these days, I may even finish Star Wars blogging...

Thanks for stopping by and sharing this space with me these last months. I've enjoyed your company.

Live long and prosper.

Sincerely,

John Kenneth Muir

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Second Star to the Right...and straight on till morning.

Okay, Admirals and Captains, here's the question this week. You're commanding a top-of-the-line starship (NCC-1701-A). Your robot side-kick (R2-D2) is at your side, the irritating kid is at the helm, and your CMO is getting testy. But the universe is your oyster. What course coordinates do you provide the helm? In other words, where do you take the ship for its shakedown cruise? Destination?

Going back into film and TV history, there are number of interesting worlds to visit. Let's start with Forbidden Planet. We could follow Captain Adams and see how Dr. Morbius is doing on Altair, right? Just be certain to erect a security forcefield around the landing site, since Monsters from the Id are known to wander the deserts by night. That's a negative, but a bonus is that we could stop by the underground and get a Krell brain boost. Also, Robby the Robot provides ship-to-settlement shuttle service. Perhaps you prefer Metaluna?

Star Trek probably provided more interesting planetary destinations than any TV show in history. Remember that favorite campfire tune, "Moon over Rigel VII?" We could head to Rigel. Or, if we're in the mood for a sun burn and heat stroke (hence the phrase "hot as Vulcan"), we could head to Spock's home planet. Make sure you bring Tri-ox compound.

If time travel is more your game, we could visit the planet of the Guardian of Forever. Let's just be really careful not to corrupt the time line. Or, if you don't feel particularly adventurous today, there's always any number of starbases where we could relax and get some well-earned R & R.

The dangerous, trippy universe of Space:1999 could provide some interesting destinations too. I hear that the foliage on planet Luton is quite beautiful this time of year. Just don't pick the berries, or the Judges of Luton will pass judgment on you.

If you're in the mood to visit a casino, in the universe of Battlestar Galactica you can find one on the planet called Carillon. There's a Tylium fuel facility there too. Need directions? Leave the Colonies, and keep heading straight through the Nova of Madagon. You may need to clear a mine-field, however. Oh, and word to the wise: the casino on Carillon provides great food and entertainment, but beware the lodgings. For some reason, all the elevators take you straight down to the lower levels...

Maybe you're a scholar and really into galactic history, and would like to visit the recently restored moisture farm on Tatooine, belonging to the most famous family in galactic history, The Skywalkers. Once upon a time (long, long ago, actually) Anakin Skywalker brought down our beloved Republic, but his son, Luke, restored it. While you're visiting the homestead, be sure to visit the small grave out beyond the encampment. It's hard to find a good restaurant, nearby - be warned. Mos Eisley? You'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Finally, maybe you'd like to go break a friend out of prison. If he's not at Rura Penthe (a.k.a. "The alien's graveyard..."), there's a good chance he's incarcerated in Fiorona 161 (a.k.a. "the ass end of space.") The prisoners there are generally well-behaved, but the facility stinks. It's a maximum security prison with no weapons whatsoever, so set those phasers to stun. Also, there's some kind of xenomorph pest problem...

Seriously, this post would go on forever because every TV and film space adventure worth its salt has featured fascinating planetary destinations. Don't limit yourself. There's Skaro, Eminiar VII, Naboo, Draconia, Dagobah, LV-426, Ceti Alpha V, The Genesis Planet, the Planet of the Apes, Gallifrey, Arrakis, and more. You name it! But lucky you, sir....you can only pick one. The warp engines are standing by.

Awaiting your orders. Course heading, admiral?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

CATNAP #36: Sleepy Daze





Cold weather has returned to the South, and the cats are glum. Last week the windows and screen doors in the house were open, and the felines were peppy & care free. This week, the heat is running, and the cats are in full hibernation mode. Ezri and Lily have even put aside their differences for the sake of body heat, and are sharing a blanket...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Land of the Lost: "Downstream"

How many Saturday morning TV shows in the 1970s had episodes written by the great science fiction author, Larry Niven? Or saw their dramatis personae face death week-in and week-out? Or made knowing jokes about mushrooms with hallucinogenic properties? Or pondered such ideas as a "closed universe" - a so-called "locked room in space?"

Well, the Star Trek animated series was pretty impressive, but I was thinking of another show, actually. These are just a few of the reasons, I believe, why Land of the Lost has continued to impress and convert new fans for thirty-two years. Sure, it's a kid's show with 1970s special effects, but there's something convincing, even adult, about the show's consistent approach to drama and science fiction.

Take the fourth episode of the first season, this week's installment, "Downstream." It's authored by Larry Niven, and finds the Marshall family seeking to escape the Land of the Lost by building a raft and heading downstream. The plan is to take the swamp to the river and - sooner or later - reach the ocean. The family flees on its make-shift raft, says its goodbyes to Grumpy and Dopey, and heads off, only to find a waterfall ahead. The family barely manages to escape to a subterranean cavern before their raft is destroyed.

There, in the cavern, the Marshalls discover Jefferson Davis Colley III (Walker Edmiston), a Civil War soldier, from the Confederate Army. He (and his cannon) have been prospecting a jeweled cavern. Thus this is the episode that introduces the Land of the Lost's power source: those colored crystals that power the matrix tables in upcoming episodes and can provide a light source or explosive, depending on how they are used in combination. The discovery of this natural resource is an element of Land of the Lost's ongoing and recurring environmental theme. This closed universe, a microcosm for Earth, possesses everything it needs for its denizens, if only the resources are allocated wisely. The Marshalls will become the stewards of the land in upcoming episodes, maintaining balance and keeping the land harmonious, but the hardest thing about this task is dealing with other people (Paku and Sleestak, respectively), those who have a different philosophy about how the resources should be shared and allocated.

Anyway, Jefferson keeps the Marshalls hostage for a time, and Rick points out to him the error of his ways. "You fought a war because you didn't want other people telling you what to do," he reminds the Confederate, pointing out his hypocrisy. And that's the sermon for the day.

"Downstream" also features some great, under the surface humor that no doubt went over the heads of many youngsters. Colley takes one look at the Marshalls and says "There are some mighty strange folk in California," a joke about the West Coast and the Entertainment Industry. There's also a joke about television. Will complains while prospecting that he hasn't seen a TV show in a long time and Marshall quips that it doesn't seem to have done him any harm. And later, Marshall makes a funny reference to drugs. "Some mushrooms have funny chemicals," he informs Will and Holly. Indeed, Rick Marshall. Indeed.

The best element of this episode is the ending, which finds the Marshalls discovering precisely where the river ends: where it started. There is no escape from the Land of the Lost. It's a pocket universe with no end and no beginning. There's no way out. Again, this seems like a fairly advanced concept for a time bloc in which marketers were selling Cocoa-Puffs. But that's why I like Land of the Lost. It's easy to dismiss the show as kid's stuff, but there's more going on in this series than in many adult series from the same era.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Guess the Movie # 8


I don't know. I'm starting to have doubts about my ability to stump the movie-savvy readership here. I admit it, you're all very, very good. Last week, for instance, Robert H. correctly recognized that the #7 "guess the movie" still came from The Final Conflict: Omen III starring Sam Neill, a 1981 film.

So this week, I'm digging deep into my treasure trove of archive photos. Let's see who can guess this one...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 34: Captain Kirk


Would you think any less of me if I admitted that I worship...idols? Well, one idol in particular. You know his name.

Say it now with me: James. Tiberius. Kirk. Captain of the starship Enterprise. Hero of the classic TV series, Star Trek.

I've written on this blog before about my man-sized hetero-love for William Shatner - a paragon of a man, a God among actors, and a fellow who's changed the world (at least according to the History Channel). But truth be told, it's Captain Kirk that I really and truly admire, deep down.

He's been my hero since I was old enough to hold my head up and gaze at the TV. Sometimes, my wife is baffled by my admiration for Kirk, since he can be pissy ("The Man Trap"), arrogant ("The Trouble with Tribbles") and irritating too. She doesn't get the hero worship, and actually, I do think that Kirk is more appealing to men as a role model, than to women in real life (though on the TV show, he has no problem with women...).

Maybe it's something about being in his presence instead of seeing him on TV. When my wife and I saw Shatner at a con here in Charlotte in 1994, she practically drooled. She won't admit it, but she did. I know. I saw, Kathryn. I saw...

Let's look at Captain Kirk for a minute. He's a brilliant leader who inspires his crew; he has the coolest friends in the galaxy (Spock and Bones) and has earned their unfailing, unswerving loyalty; he also commands a starship and is an experienced explorer, soldier and diplomat. Even more to the point, Kirk is a man of reason, sensitivity and great fairness. He's also good in a fight.

How can you not love Kirk? To me he's everything a renaissance man should be; my ideal role model. More so than Picard, who who can occasionally be dull, and, frankly, doesn't have the combat chops that Kirk does. I like to make this contrast between the two characters:

In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Kirk has "appropriated" the Enterprise, which is manned by a skeleton crew. He has no reason to outright suspect foul play in the Genesis sector, but the U.S.S. Grissom isn't responding to hails, and his antennae are up. A distortion in space is noted by Sulu, and Kirk makes the (correct) assumption that the distortion is a cloaked Klingon vessel. When by all rights the Klingons seem to have the advantage, Kirk fires photon torpedoes and gets the first strike in on the Bird of Prey while it's still decloaking. It's amazing.

Now, Picard in Generations commands the Federation flagship manned by a full crew. An unknown assailant has attacked an array, a Federation facility in space, so this captain should be ready for combat. A Klingon Bird of Prey de-cloaks (notice Picard didn't detect it like Kirk did before hand...) and Picard's baffled, ineffective reaction is simply one word, after Worf reports the enemy's presence. "What?" Come on! That sucks.

Kirk rules.

Anyway, this is a toy flashback, not just a blatant fan appreciation, so this week I'm highlighting all the Captain Kirk action figures I've owned over the years. Playing with these guys, you just gotta hope some of that Shatner magic rubs off. You'll find in my collection the Mego Kirk from the 1970s, from the Original Series days (Kirk's heyday). Also, I have the Knickerbocker plush Kirk toy. As much as I love and admire Jim Kirk, I've never felt like I want to cuddle him, however.

Then, I also have this rare Galoob Captain Kirk figure from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. I know a lot of people hate this movie, but to me, Kirk's in fine form here, leading an assault on Paradise City, wrestling with cat women, and then asking the Almighty Himself: "What does God need with a starship?" Only the greatest hero in the Alpha Quadrant would ask the Almighty for his I.D.

Playmates released a number of Captain Kirk specialty action figures over the 1990s, including one wherein the good captain is wearing casual 1930s clothes (from the episode "City on the Edge of Forever.") The company also released a version of Captain Kirk in a space suit; from a scene that was cut from Generations (1994).

If you ask me, the biggest mistake the Star Trek franchise ever made was killing of Captain Kirk at the end of Generations. He died saving billions of innocent people (whom we never met...) on a planet which we never saw...), which was a noble way to take a bow, but just look at Shatner today on Boston Legal. He's tanned, rested and ready to take the center seat. Just think, we could have had ten more years of Captain Kirk on Star Trek, had Paramount done things a little differently.

I think the best way to continue Star Trek now is to return Captain Kirk to active duty. I want to see him in action again.

How about you?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Collectible of the Week # 2: Alien Board Game!

As if a sign from above, this morning, one of my displays fell from a high shelf, and the Kenner board game from the 1979 Ridley Scott movie Alien crashed with a thud on my desktop (in the process, scuttling my Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Star Fighter model...).

I decided this unfortunate event was an omen, and figured I should write about the game today, even though I usually blog about toys on Thursday.

I was just turned ten years old in December of 1979, when Alien was released nationwide in theaters, and though my ten-year old best friend and next door neighbor went to go see it, the movie was R-rated and my parents wouldn't take me. I think they were right, by the way -- I was too young.

Anyhow, my buddy came back from a showing of the film around Christmas and then went on and on telling me all kinds of cool things about the movie I couldn't see. Making it worse, one of my aunts also saw the movie and regaled me with tales about how it was the scariest movie she had ever seen.

Hoping to be a part of the club, I collected the trading cards. I even read the Alan Dean Foster novelization. But I didn't actually get to see Alien for myself till it came out on videotape, years later (1983? 1984?).

Still, by 1980, I did get to play the board game, which you see here before you.

The first thing you may notice is that the alien depicted on the box cover (the photo with the blue background) is not an image or still from the Scott film, but a photograph of the Kenner Alien toy! Why? Because the alien depicted in the film was simply too scary to put on a kid's toy box cover! Even funnier, this action figure toy also scared a bunch of kids my age, and was very quickly pulled from toy store shelves when outraged parents protested. I guess that's what happens when you make toy merchandise for an R-rated, balls-to-the-walls horror flick...

The Alien Game (for two to four players; ages 7 and up) is billed as "an exciting game of elimination and escape." The contents of the game include 16 playing tokens, an instruction sheet, a gameboard and dice. And the objective (as you maybe can read in the photo, if the image is clear enough) is to "be the first player to guide one of your crew members through the mother ship to the safety of the escape pod, Narcissus."

The game also urges players to "recreate the suspenseful terror of the new Space Thriller, ALIEN! Use luck and strategy to defend your astronauts from deadly ALIEN forces."

I've always collected board games, but this one was one I actually played. I remember sitting with friends, gazing at the game board and dreaming of one day seeing that scary movie. You know, by the time I saw Alien, I had imagined and fantasized so much - so many awful, disgusting things - that I wasn't even really that scared of it...

Before long, I did move on from the Alien board game to another one. A fifth-grade friend had the board game of Escape from New York (1981), and it was way cool too...because you got to land a glider on the top of the World Trade Center, and recuse the President of the United States. Ah, fickle youth...

CATNAP #35: Printer Attack






The cats love my printer.

Any cat who possesses the printer is the king of the hill. Not only is the device conveniently located next to my desk, it looks out on the window and the street beyond, and offers the kittys a view of the world. So - of course - they mob it.

Also, the printer occasionally comes to life and starts spouting paper - and the felines love that. Every time the printer activates, three cats race to it and begin pawing at each new sheet.

This is why I've gone through three printers in two years...

Monday, March 13, 2006

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

I saw the Alexandre Aja remake of The Hills Have Eyes yesterday and liked it a great deal. The relatively faithful (but much embellished...) remake got me thinking again about the landmark, original film, which is a personal favorite.

For those of you who don't remember that venture from the disco decade, it's the story of a terrible clash in the desert between an extended "civilized" family, the Carters, and a group of in-bred savages. The two families are twisted reflections of one another, and only one can survive in the inhospitable, scorching terrain.

In the 1977 version, the Carters (a so-called "whitebread" family) were represented by a bigot named Big Bob, his long-suffering wife, young siblings Brenda and Bobby, older daughter Lynn and her diffident husband Doug. They also brought along their baby, Katherine, and the family's two dogs: Beauty and the Beast. The bad guys were represented by psychotic madmen with names like Papa Jupiter, Pluto and Mercury. The Jupiter clan - though undeniably deranged - was well organized and disciplined in its attack on the Carters, who had become stranded in the desert following an accident on the road with their trailer.

The film didn't get great reviews when it was released, and yet to horror fans, it's a classic of the savage cinema. One of the most famous sequences involves one of the madmen twisting the head off the Carters' parakeet like its a beer can tab, and then drinking the bird's blood from its open throat. There's also a crucifixion/burning, a rape, and several point-blank gun shot wounds. The movie is harrowing, brutally unsentimental...and deeply relevant to modern America.

Here's my review (of the original):

Wes Craven's 1977 feature, The Hills Have Eyes is a dedicated re-working of the siege film, a genre in which a group of characters are isolated in a remote location and attacked from all corners by enemies. In horror, the "siege" has been vetted well by George Romero in Night of the Living Dead (1968) and by John Carpenter in Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).

Many critics have suggest that The Hills Have Eyes boasts roots going further back in film history even than those notable examples, in Westerns such as The Alamo. Not surprisingly, then, the Craven film can easily be fit into the Western film mold with a few contemporary modifications. To wit, a group of pioneers (here vacationers...) head west in a wagon train (here a recreational vehicle; a trailer), only to be savagely assaulted by a group of primitives (not American Indians as in the cowboy tradition, but in-bred cannibals). However, to gaze upon The Hills Have Eyes as merely another entry in the siege genre does this horror a disservice. Wes Craven is famous for imbuing his films with sub-text and social commentary, and this film is no exception.

The heart of The Hills Have Eyes is actually the duel between two families, one from "civilization" and one from the wild. The battle for supremacy takes place not on neutral territory, however, but in the home court of the savage clan, in this case, the barren, rocky landscape of the Yucca Desert. The landscape plays a critical role in the film and Craven defines a chaotic terrain of danger that is as much nemesis to the Carter family as is Jupiter's killer clan.

The Carters - named after then-President Carter, perhaps? - stumble upon a vast world of inhospitable hills and rock. It is a world where their enemies can come and go as they please and yet remain hidden, because of their camouflage. The Carters bear no such protection, and the hard right angles of their trailer stand out like a beacon against the random outcroppings of the terrain. The Carters are just they (aptly) describe themselves in the film's finale: sitting ducks.
The desert turns even more dangerous by night. The darkness provides a natural shroud, - yet another brand of camouflage - for the activities of the marauding cannibals. Again, the Carters are out of their element. Even in the darkness of night, they constantly have a campfire burnng outside their trailer, and all the lights on inside of it. They possess the only illumination in the entire desert, and it too serves as a sort of beacon, drawing their opponents ever closer like moths to the flame.

Because they are the products of contemporary urban life, the Carters are instantly uncomfortable once trapped in Craven's forbidding landscape. Brenda repeatedly asserts that dwelling outside gives her "the creeps." The others naively insist clean air is "good" for them, but they do not respect the land. Instead of adapting to their new surroundings, they attempt to tame it and control the land . Almost immediately, they set up a dinner table outside the trailer....and begin to picnic. It is a ridiculous scene as the Carters rotely fold their napkins and set out their silverware in orderly fashion...amidst a vast wasteland. From this scene alone, it is clear that they are truly out of touch with their location and have no notion of the dangers it boasts, or how to cope with them. This is the first blow against them in their deadly war with Papa Jupiter.

The Carters are woefully out of their element in another fashion too. Although they're on unfamiliar ground, they continue to rely on technology that has failed. Their car breaks down, stranding them and making them susceptible to attack in the first place. Then the trailer's battery goes dead and they are plunged into darkness. Next, the members of the family depend on modern weaponry that they have never used before. At one point, Bobby has a clear shot at Mars with his pistol and misses three times. Brenda is just as lost, asking at one point, "How do you use this thing anyway?" Even Big Bob Carter - who should know better given his years on a police force - cannot effectively harness his "howitzer" pistol.

Other technology proves equally troubling. The CB Radio - which should help contact rescuers - ends up as a tool with which they hand over critical defensive information to the enemy. Their car "betrays" them again when the gas is siphoned by Pluto and used to set the captured Big Bob aflame. Even the chain leash with which the family tethers the Beast breaks. The result is that the dog runs off when the family needs him most. If Beast were present during the attack by Pluto and Mars, Mrs. Carter and Lynn might not have been killed.

It is only when the Carters forsake the tools of 20th century man that they begin to successfully defend themselves. They only defeat Jupiter once they stop viewing their trailer as a shelter, a mobile representation of their suburban safety, and instead use it as a weapon and blow it to smithereens. Similarly, they kill Papa Jupe once they have forsaken Brenda's ridiculous car axle gimmick for a handy hatchet (it might as well be a tomahawk...). As for Doug, he only beats Mars when he embraces a knife instead of the surplus supplies he has brought back from the abandoned PX base. It is only by resorting to basics that the Carter family can compete in a world where their technology is meaningless

It is not just the landscape and untrustworthy technology that imperils the Carters, it is the now meaningless family conventions they cling to as well. Early in the film, the family gathers together and prays. No one wants to do it, and the prayer accordingly has a rote, mechanical feel. Yet still the family gathers together like Zombies and prays for the Lord to look over them. In the very next shot, - a long view lensed from at least half-a-mile away - their total isolation is revealed. They are in the middle of nowhere, so prayer is not a practical solution.

Worse, their wishes to be taken care of by an invisible deity are undercut by the fact that they are already being watched over. Not by God, but by Pluto, the evil brother and a kind of God of the desert. The Carters cannot grasp the danger of their predicament and so apply pat societal remedies as prayer to a world where neither civilization nor religion hold sway. To defeat the cannibal clan, the Carters must give up societal constructs (like prayer) and fight brutally. They do, even harnessing the bodies of their dead as a decoy.

Only when the Carters go "native" and fight force with blunt, brutal force, are they able to preserve what's left of their family. The final freeze frame of The Hills Have Eyes reveals Doug hovering viciously over Mars' corpse. It is a shot which suggests the lesson has been learned. Man has violent tendencies just beneath the surface, instincts he can tap even with hundreds of year of civilization behind him. When the frame then turns blood-red, the indication is that man is a creature awash in blood and that there is no real difference between civilized people who supposedly have law and morality, and wild sociopaths who roam the hills. Both will fight and kill to protect their families. Civilized people just take a little pushing...

Many have read very deep Vietnam War allegories into The Hills Have Eyes, because they see a primitive enemy defeating a technologically superior force. And indeed, the destruction of the trailer brings to mind the Vietnam-era adage "to save a village, you must destroy it." Still, I propose the film is much more closely related to situations inside America than to any foreign war. Our real enemy resides not in a faraway land, but right here, under the auspices of a failed social safety net. Whole classes of people have remained down-trodden for so long while a middle class has flourished. Accordingly, some people become desperate as health care, medicine, gasoline and even food fall out of economic reach. In situations without law (not unlike the aftermath of Katrina...) some of these "have nots" act desperately - even viciously - to survive a terrible situation.

This movie represents a battle between the haves and those have nots. The film opens with a pan across a barren highway, and it is immediately apparent that this region is a wasteland. Young Ruby, one of the savage family, begs for food and establishes that her family is starving. The Jupiter clan is thus desperate to survive, on the edge of extinction - and though this no way justifies their evil - it does make their actions at least comprehensible. Like the Carters, they must fight for survival in a world without resources. Jupe's clan does not have the benefits of refrigerators, vehicles, air conditioning, or even artificial light, for that matter. The battle between the cannibals and the Carters in The Hills Have Eyes is thus not symbolic of the Viet Cong versus the U.S., but rather representative of a single house divided: the poor of America versus the wealthy....in the one place where the poor can fight back: on a leveled playing field. No tax cuts for the rich are going to help the Carter family in the desert.

Craven weaves all of these themes into a 90-minute motion picture of escalating terror, brilliantly staging the siege on the Carters in increasingly fear-provoking waves. First a spider invades the trailer, signifying what is to come, a kind of invasion vanguard. Then the first dog is killed. Then Big Bob is killed in what today we'd euphemistically term "a decapitation strike." Then the RV is totally overtaken, and so on. Incident builds upon incident until the viewer is overwhelmed, and fully half the Carter family is already dead. The film maintains this startling pace throughout, and leaves audiences in shock. The Hills Have Eyes packs a visceral punch, and this film doesn't play favorites with characters. It's a raw, unsentimental and horrific glimpse of class warfare; of the disenfranchised striking back.

And it's a great horror movie. The new film has a different spin. But more on that later.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Land of the Lost: "Dopey"

On the third episode of Land of the Lost, written by Margaret Armen (Star Trek: "The Paradise Syndrome," and "The Gamesters of Triskelion"), Holly and Will tug an elaborately-built wagon (one made of logs and twine and with wheels made of tree trunks..) through the jungle, transporting a gaggle of oversized strawberries back to the cave at High Bluff, where Rick Marshall waits.

However, what occurs next in "Dopey" serves as the introduction of one the series' recurring dinosaur characters (and we've already met Spike, Grumpy, Spot and Big Alice.) Holly and Will spot a cracked-open brontosaurus egg and then meet a newly hatched brontosaur baby, which Holly promptly names Dopey. The kindly dinosaur (which mewls like a kitten) follows the duo home and Holly predictably asks Dad, "Can we keep him?" Marshall's smart response is that "a 5,000 lb. dinosaur stays where ever he wants." Now that's practical parenting!

Holly teaches Grumpy to fetch a stick, kind of. The dinosaur retrieves the stick, and then eat its. Then Holly rides Dopey like a horse and trains him to pull the cart. However, when Grumpy attacks High Bluff and nearly gets his sharp teeth on Dopey (who hides...), Holly realizes that her desire to own a pet could endanger Dopey's life. "We'll have to find a good home for him...a place where he'd be safe," Marshall recommends - and with great difficulty, Holly returns Dopey to the swamp, where he can be with his own kind, including the adult Brontosaurus, Emily. The episode ends with the brontosaurs nuzzling.

Back a few years ago, when I interviewed some of the cast and crew of Land of the Lost, I learned that the series had an interesting template: the stories were separated into three categories. There would be Cha-Ka stories, Sleestak stories and dinosaur stories, and these three types would rotate over the weeks so that each consisted of one third of the series. Naturally, "Dopey" is a dinosaur episode, and one that requires more special effects than some (cue the chroma key!). Dopey is depicted both in miniature stop-motion form, and with an on-set mechanical head that doesn't look quite so convincing, though he does have nice, affectionate moon-eyes.

Thematically, like the other stories featured thus far, Land of the Lost's "Dopey" features a lesson for the kiddies about responsibility and taking care of pets. It's about doing what's right for the animal, not for the master's comfort.

So essentially, this is the "be nice to stray animals" episode, and it's a message I wholeheartedly approve of, since there are about six outdoor cats in my neighborhood that I like to feed and care for. I try to keep them close to my house so they won't cross the street. We live on a busy road, and I live in mortal fear that one of the cats is going to get struck by a car, so I attempt to keep them on my side. One of my neighbors, a sweet person, has had several of them spayed, to keep the population of wild kitties from growing. Anyway, "Dopey" struck a chord with me somewhere. I know that if someone offered one of these neighborhood cats a better, safer home, it would be a very good thing - even though I'd miss them terribly. Unfortunately, I don't live near any brontosaur swamps...

The Gilligan's Island principle of this Land of the Lost episode (meaning the incredible instruments, devices and tools built with primitive measures...) reveals the Marshalls eating dinner out of giant carved bowls. They look to have been made from giant shells of some type. And then there's that wagon, which must have taken weeks to construct. But then again, what else is there to do in the Land of the Lost?

Another nice scene in the episode finds Will and Holly reminiscing about home, and a backyard strawberry patch. This is the first explicit mention of what it was like where they used to live, and they discuss making homemade ice cream. When the Marshall children started asking each other if they'd ever escape the Land of the Lost, I realized that I hoped they wouldn't, because I enjoy the series so much. Sorry, kids...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Guess The Movie # 7: Muir Strikes Back!


All right, all you highly literate movie smarty-pants out there! I'm roaring back with a vengeance on my guess the movie stumpers!

Tony aced the one from Wednesday (within a frickin' hour!), guessing correctly that the still came from that Alien predecessor IT! The Terror From Beyond Space. It's my second favorite Alien predecessor after Bava's Planet of the Vampires...

Anyway, this one here, number # 7 is a tougher one, methinks. Let's see who can...guess the movie!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 33: Movie Novelizations

"Once, under the wise rule of the Senate and the protection of the Jedi Knights, the Republic throve and grew. But as often happens when wealth and power pass beyond the admirable and attain the awesome, then appear those evil ones who have greed to match.

So it was the Republic at its height. Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside.

Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic."

-From the novelization of Star Wars, a "novel by George Lucas." First printing, December 1976; 15th printing August 1977.

I realize it is probably impolitic to say it today, especially because there are certain people (let's call 'em snobs), who will disagree vociferously, but I've always really enjoyed movie novelizations. Some of them aren't merely good, but actually achieve greatness on their own. I would certainly put the Star Wars novel (ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster, allegedly...) in that category.

I remember reading this novelization back in the third grade -- and my mind opening up to a whole new universe. Yes, it was a movie universe, but it helped me fall in love with books and reading, and so also served as a gateway to great literary science fiction.

After reading the novelization of Star Wars, I was onto The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in sixth grade; Dune in seventh grade; The Martian Chronicles in eighth. And on and on. So I know some people (bitter writers, I think, who didn't get the assignment themselves...) complain that "novelizations" are an example of a semi-literate bankrupt culture, but I totally and completely disagree. If you look across the history of novelizations, many are written with great care by first rate authors.

Another novelization I loved arrived in 1982. Vonda N. McIntyre's glorious interpretation of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Again - in an era before DVD bonus features - the novelization offered fans one of the few opportunities to learn about deleted scenes and background character and story details. This book is a prime example of that. For instance, McIntyre goes into detail about Peter Preston, Scotty's nephew (a fact actually omitted from the film's theatrical cut...) and especially about Lt. Saavik's half-Vulcan/half-Romulan heritage.

Although I believe that McIntyre's approach eventually failed with The Voyage Home...a lackluster read that bore only a passing resemblance to the movie and was loaded with irrelevant subplots, her adaptations of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock were the stuff of magic.

Over the years, I've continued to read novelizations with enthusiasm. The summer before I attended college, I had a great day at the beach devouring Paul Monette's novelization of Predator...a riveting read that included a "new" scene set aboard the Predator's spaceship, which Dutch found in the jungle.

I enjoy other horror movie novelizations too. Dennis Etchison did some amazing work in the early 1980s with the Halloween license, as well as with the John Carpenter movie, The Fog. Again, these books stand on their own as good, satisfying reads even without an accompanying film; ditto for Nicholas Grabowsky's difficult-to-find but eminently worthwhile Halloween IV adaptation. I also read a novelization of the movie Moonraker by Christopher Wood that inspired me to read all the original Ian Fleming novels, and now I'm a huge fan of Fleming's work.

Over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of movie novelizations as well as other published works, and I treasure them for a number of reasons. One, they bring back memories of movies I love; and two - they stoked my love of science fiction and horror, which continues to this day. If you ask me, the best novelizations can compete any day with original fiction.

Any novelizaton fans out there? What's your favorite?


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Guess the Movie # 6


All righty then. Last week, readers here really nailed the "guess the movie" post quickly - on one guess!!! (Good job, Tony, for naming the movie first!) For those of you who weren't sure, It was the 1970s Nazi Zombie movie, SHOCK WAVES starring Peter Cushing. It's a good horror movie, and I recommend you rent it.

Anyway, I'll try to stump you with this photo for the time being. It's from a personal favorite of mine. Thus far, it seems like the most difficult "guess the movies" entries have been for Parasite (1983) and The Children (1980) and Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). Which is odd, because I guess that most readers here grew up in the eighties. Yes, no?

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week: Aliens (1986)

"I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage!"

-Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Aliens (1986)

We're Canceled Here.

Some bad career news, today.

Emmis, the company publishing the Behind The Screen series, which includes The Princess Bride, The Big Lebowski, Breakfast at Tiffanys and my own Spinal Tap effort, has closed its book division effective immediately, which means that all the upcoming books are canceled. Contracts with writers are terminated.

News first surfaced of this development on the Net Friday, but I was notified personally this week and wanted to wait to be sure it was true before writing about it here.

I wanted to thank everybody who pre-ordered the Spinal Tap book through Amazon, and commented about it on the blog. This would have been my eighteenth book (I have contracts with other companies through my 21st...), so I've been in the business long enough to know that publishing can often be a tricky and disappointing game. I remember when Cinescape changed hands several years ago, and I was left with over a thousand dollars of unpaid fees for articles I had written, or my disappointment at Farscape's cancellation just as I was becoming a regular contributor to the official magazine. Sometimes, those are the breaks!
C'est la vie!

But don't cry for me (Argentina...), I've also learned that what appears to be a reverse, a setback or a failure can often times be translated into a success or a happy ending. When I finish my deadlines on Horror Films of the 1980s and my other projects (in mid-April), I'll have more time to closely ponder the future of my Spinal Tap book (which is all finished...and features behind-the-scenes info about the film that's never been revealed.)

Until then, I just wanted to express my sincere gratitude to those of you who expressed interest in the project, and apologize to anyone who ordered the book and will now be disappointed. I'll keep everybody updated on how things go from here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

TV REVIEW: Medium: "Allison Wonderland"

Last night's episode of Medium, written by Bernadette McNamara and directed by Ronald L. Schwary, was a welcome improvement over the last segment, and as a result an enjoyable hour. Of course, I was still reeling from the conclusion of 24 on Fox, which was highly disturbing and saw the release of nerve gas in CTU and the death of a beloved character. But eventually I got over it, my heart rate settled, and I focused on the show before me. Probably took me a good fifteen minutes...

"Allison Wonderland" is an interesting installment of this Patricia Arquette series on NBC, one involving a delusional mathematician who is killed when tossed off the roof of a hotel in Los Angeles. Well - of course - everybody's favorite psychic, Allison DuBois is on the case, but as is typical for Medium, the show comes at this murder mystery totally sideways; from an unexpected angle. To wit, the mathematician is a bit of crackpot, on meds for paranoia, and he envisions himself as a man of movie-star looks. Hence, in her psychic phantasms, Allison envisions the man as he sees himself: as David Carradine. Yep, David Carradine is the guest star in "Allison Wonderland." That alone elevates this installment above the norm.

Cracking this mystery involves learning more about Carradine's work on a "pass code" device and his belief that he is defending the nation from terrorists by cracking a difficult algorithm. Turns out, that's not quite the case. Instead, he's a patsy for a thief who knows just how to manipulate his madness.

Meanwhile, on the home front, little Bridget is obsessed with a book series about a character named Danielle, who "stars" in three books. She wants more Danielle adventures, but the author died a year ago and there are no more books to enjoy. Strangely, Danielle begins typing away on Daddy's computer, writing a totally new Danielle adventure, replete with grown-up vocabulary (like the word 'wan.') So, is she receiving communications from the dead writer, or just experiencing the spark of creativity? That's the conflict for Joe this week...

My big thought about this week's episode is that Medium - when you take out all the psychic bells and whistles - is really a program about a very simple, relatable idea. To wit, it's a show about concerned parents accepting the fact that their child isn't perfect; that he or she may have some heritage (some genetic baggage...) that troubles them. In real life, this "baggage" might be a a physical handicap, even a precocious intelligence, but Medium uses the rubric of psychic powers to discuss this side of family life. I think that's incredibly cool, because the best genre TV programming is always that show which is artistically constructed; that features an overarching metaphor that is applied and grants it a deeper meaning.

For Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was the adolescence + high school = horror & monsters equation. For The X-Files, it was that notion of seeing the world through the competing lenses of skepticism and belief. On Millennium, the symbol of the yellow house as sanctuary - then paradise lost - informed many episodes. So it's terrific that Medium is also attempting to work on this higher level too. Because it isn't easy by any means. The trick in navigating this path is that the show in question must create two tracks. First, it must also be what it appears to be about (a psychic woman and her job as a detective) and at the same time it can be interpreted in more general, didactic terms (a show about family). From what I've seen, Medium really succeeds at this balancing act.

CATNAP #34: Irresistible...



For some inexplicable reason, our family room is abut ten degrees cooler than every other room in our home. We rebuilt the room last May and insulated it and everything. Still, it doesn't matter what the temperature is outside - hot or cold - the family room is always chilly. Recently, we brought down a sleeping bag for one sofa to help keep us warm while we screen movies, and the sleeping bas has proven positively irresistible to the cats. Now they jockey for position to see who can sleep on it; sometimes they even sleep together on it (though I wasn't quick enough to snap a picture of Lily on it beside Ezri...). In fact, at night we have to fold it up so the kitties will come to bed. Top picture: Lila. Bottom photo: Ezri.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Link of the Week: Captphil Online

It's still being constructed (as I write...) but I wanted to feature a shout-out this week to a new site that I've already been enjoying: Captphil Online.

This site is administered by one of my good friends and colleagues in the genre community. I first met "Captain Phil" about seven years ago - hard to believe - at the Space:1999 Breakaway Convention in Los Angeles on September 13, 1999. He's a good friend and he's helped me out on career-y things more times than I can count. He's been a steadfast supporter to Kathryn and me, an idea-man and - most importantly - he's an all-around good guy (and he has a lovely wife and a very sweet family).

Anyway, Captain Phil is a regular genre conventioneer, and is devoting his site to preserving that experience for future generations. Here's his mission statement:

"On this site I will document my 25 years of attending Science Fiction conventions with the goal of making some of the recordings I have of those events available to those interested in researching Science Fiction and to keep the names of those authors, artists and fans I've met alive for the next generation of fans and pros. I'll be commenting on the conventions I currently attend and what I think about those events, from the organization to the topics discussed. All of this and more will be on The Classic Adventures section of this site. Enjoy!"


What will you find on the site? Well, he's already got a
page devoted to host Howard Margolin's legendary institution , Destinies: the Voice of Science Fiction. This is great, because the site has archived several episodes of the classy genre radio-talk show for your perusal, including the December 23, 2005 annual Christmas special, the January 6th "Film Review Team" special selecting the five best genre films of last year, and much more.

On his "Classic Adventures" page, you'll find a chronicle of Captain Phil's convention sojourns over the years (and he's a well-traveled fellow.):

"From here I'll be linking photos from the conventions I've attended and linking to my MP3/Podcast reviews of those events. I'll even try to do a couple of interviews with some of the guests. Also look for some audio content of these conventions, either panel discussions or speeches. These are presented for Science Fiction Historians, enthusiasts and the curious..."

So check out Captphil Online if you're into this stuff (as I am...) it's a site still developing, but there's already a tremendous range of material to choose from.

March Muir Column up at Far Sector

My March '06 column is "live" over at the new issue of Far Sector and it's a review of the PG-13 horror movie from 2005 that filmed at my alma mater, the University of Richmond. That movie is Cry_Wolf, and here's a clip from Cry_Wolf and Let Slip the Dogs of War:


We all end up with the horror movies we deserve, to misquote somebody famous. Although rarely a fan of PG-13 horror films, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of a 2005 effort I just screened last night on DVD. It’s called Cry_Wolf and it was directed by newcomer Jeff Wadlow.

In a glitzy, streamlined fashion, this unassuming teen horror flick accurately reflects the state of our country right now. It taps into the prevailing Zeitgeist, and how this production reflects some of our current national crises makes for an interesting, if not overly deep, contribution to the genre.

To read more about my surprising conclusion that I actually liked this modern product of corporate, soulless Hollywood horror, go
here.

March McFarland Film/TV Releases

What's new at McFarland this month? The North Carolina publisher boasts another roster of interesting film and television book releases worthy of your attention. Here's the slate:

Stop-motion animation has long been perceived as a technical practice rather than a creative, demanding art. Though stop-motion requires considerable technical knowledge, it also involves aesthetics and artistry that go beyond the technician’s realm. Just as important as puppet mechanics are lighting, filters, lenses, camera angle and placement, and dramatic pose and movement.This manual is a complete guide to the aesthetics of stop-motion animation. Information is organized in an intuitive, easy-to-use structure, following the order an animator uses in setting up and then executing a scene. The first half concentrates on the aesthetics of lighting and cameras, a primary concern in any shot, with details of camera placement, various lenses and myriad lighting techniques. The second half deals with the process of performance art, an oft-overlooked aspect of stop-motion animation. Included is a commentary on body language, facial expression, gesture, movement and emotion—key concepts that are exemplified through the acting process. The work also offers an introduction to narrative form and a glossary of related terms.


Psycho Thrillers-
By William Indick

Mind control, madness and altered states of reality can make for exciting nights at the movies—which explains the enduring popularity of a film genre that might be called the psycho thriller. Psychiatry and film came of age simultaneously, and characters such as the evil psychiatrist and the pathological killer were often developed in direct reference to the psychological themes that inspired them. For example, the penchants of Hitchcock’s famously creepy Norman Bates represented real psychological disorders, and his actions were explained through psychoanalysis. The psycho thriller presents a world where psychology represents a dimension of supernatural and metaphysical wonders.The introduction analyzes what makes a psycho thriller, and subsequent chapters are devoted to each of the archetypal psycho thriller characters (the mad scientist, the psycho killer, the individual with psychic powers, and the psychiatrist) and themes (mind control, dreams, memory, and existential issues). The concluding chapter lists the top twenty psycho thrillers. Stills from classic films in the genre illustrate the text, which also includes filmography, bibliography, and index.

Following The Fugitive-
By Bill Deane

The Fugitive made its debut on ABC on September 17, 1963. Over the next four seasons, the show enjoyed enormous commercial and critical success. Millions of fans followed the heroic exploits of Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen) as he eluded police lieutenant Philip Gerard (Barry Morse) and doggedly pursued the killer of his wife, the notorious one-armed man. The show has experienced recent renewed interest since the 1993 movie of the same name became such a box-office smash and video favorite. The coverage is episode-by-episode, giving title, cast lists, director, writer, original airdate, and a comprehensive plot synopsis.
By Bryan Senn

From the grindhouse oddities to major studio releases, this work details 46 horror films released during the genre’s golden era. Each entry includes cast and credits, a plot synopsis, in-depth critical analysis, contemporary reviews, time of release, brief biographies of the principal cast and crew, and a production history. Apart from the 46 main entries, 71 additional “borderline horrors” are examined and critiqued in an appendix.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Muir in The Philadelphia Inquirer!

Hey folks, I was interviewed in an article about the new Battlestar Galactica by journalist David Hiltbrand last week. The piece ran in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday (March 2, 2006), and it concerns the on-going divisions between old school BSG'ers and the new show.

Here's a clip from "A Whole New Dimension for Battlestar Galactica," Mr. Hiltbrand's article:

"They pull a lot from contemporary politics," agrees John Kenneth Muir, author of An Analytical Guide to Television's Battlestar Galactica. "It's ripped from the headlines. There was an Abu Ghraib torture episode. It's pretty clear these are post-9/11 Americans in space."

The show's unconventional strategy seems to be paying off. As it approaches the final episode of its second season on March 10, BSG is averaging 2.3 million viewers a week. "It's our highest-rated original series ever," says Dave Howe, executive vice president of Sci Fi. "It's also our youngest skewing series, and it's unbelievably successful internationally as well."

It's no surprise that some of the people who enjoyed the original series find the wholesale changes irksome. "It's like they're trying to poke us in the eye with every episode," says Muir, who numbers himself among the "crusty old fans." "The original show was very family-based. There were jokes about it being Bonanza in Space. It was like Lassie or Little House [on the Prairie]. It was about how families take care of each other in times of crisis."

While the characters in the '70s show were cut from a heroic mold, the new crew has issues. "What I've heard fans of the original say is that there's nobody to really like," Muir says. "People who were formerly honorable have been saddled with these soap-opera syndromes, like drinking or rage."

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Land of the Lost: "The Sleestak God"

In our second installment of the 1974-1976 Sid and Marty Krofft live-action Saturday morning TV series, Land of the Lost, the stranded Marshall family is introduced - a bit unwillingly - to the other race of "people" inhabiting this unusual pocket universe: the fearsome Sleestak.

"The Sleestak God" opens with Holly and Will being tasked by their Dad, Rick Marshall, to get a refill from the nearby watering hole. The watering jug we saw last week ("Cha-Ka") has miraculously reproduced, and now the Marshalls have two of them. Anyway, Will and Holly head off across a bridge over a chasm (and Cha-Ka follows them...) as they find an amazing forgotten city carved into the side of an imposing mountain. Our first view of the city and the ancient temple dominating it is a nice, long, revealing pan left across the grounds (and it's actually a highly-detailed miniature)
. Before long, however, Holly and Will get chased by the guardian of the campus, an allosaurus they name "Big Alice."

On one wall near the city is scrawled in chalk the warning: BEWARE OF SLEESTAK. Since the message is written in English, this is our first inkling that other humans have before been trapped in the Land of the Lost.

When Will and Holly are captured by the hissing, reptilian Sleestak (who also adorn cross-bows as side-arms), Cha-Ka brings Rick Marshall to the temple. But will they arrive in time to save the kids from from being a sacrifice to the hungry, bellowing (and unseen...) Sleestak God that inhabits a misty pit?

Anyway, that's the plot of this second episode, written by David Gerrold and directed by Dennis Steinmetz. Since this is only the second episode of the series, it's clear that many of the concepts and people on the show are still being developed, and other than the dinosaurs, the Sleestaks may be the most important component. We don't know it yet, but they have a fascinating history (and future?) My only problem in this installment is that the Sleestak are supposed to be cave dwellers who can't stand light (and can be fought with the only weapon the Marshals have: fire!). However, three Sleestak attack Will and Holly outside the city in broad daylight, which seems odd and inconsistent.

This week also provides the first glimpse of another Land of the Lost native, the Triceratops named Spike. And we get more of Cha-Ka's language. "Osu" is the Paku word for water.

On the Gilligan's Island list of devices and instruments made by the Marshalls to make their stay in the Land of the Lost more "civilized," we see in "The Sleestak God" that Marshall has fashioned a basket out of twigs, and that Holly has built a broom out of straw (so she can do housework in the cave!) Finally, each of the Marshalls is now also wearing a small square mirror around their necks (where did they get these?) They can communicate using the mirrors - across vast distances - in Morse Cod, as Will and Rick do in this episode. Convenient that they should all know Morse Code, though, isn't it?

As for the geography of the Land of the Lost, this is the first episode in which viewers see the ravine separating High Bluff (and Grumpy's territory) from the Sleestak City (and Big Alice's territory).


Next week, we meet another (more friendly) denizen of The Land of the Lost in "Dopey."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK #32: Buttons!

Over the years, political buttons have proven to be very valuable collectibles. Own a Bush/Quayle '92 button? Or how about a Gore/Leiberman 2000? Yet - perhaps not surprisingly - there's also such a thing as science fiction film and tv buttons.

I think the first collectible I ever actually purchased with my own money (meaning my allowance...) may very well have been a button from Star Wars. This was back in 1977, and my favorite character was Chewbacca. Because he was kind of like a monster, I guess, and I was a King Kong fan. I was in the second grade when I bought my prized Chewbacca button at Englishtown Flea Market. After I bought it, you couldn't get me to take it off.

Over the years, I collected more, including ones from ALF, Space: 1999 and the like. When I was in high school, my sister bought me a personal favorite: a "Spock for President" button, which I guess is sort of the equivalent of a political button, right? I mean, imagine how much better our country would be if Mr. Spock really were President. If the decisions he made for our well-being were based on principles like logic, peace, infinite diversity in infinite combinations and the like. Not only that, he plays a mean game of three dimensional chess.

Anyway, "buttons" are the toy of the week. Anyone out there collect 'em? I'm guessing they're probably not as popular as other sci-fi collectibles because buttons are cheap, easy to create, and probably not even "official." Still, they're fun.

And I do own a political button, by the way. It isn't pictured here. But it reads "Jane Wyman was right..." Hopefully, someone out there understands what that snarky remark means.

COLLECTIBLE OF THE WEEK: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, a Media-Tie In


Today, movie and TV tie-in books are gorgeous and slick. Better yet, they're written by a stable of outstanding authors who really understand (and admire...) the material they're adapting; like Peter David, Keith R.A. De Candido, Greg Cox, or Lee Goldberg.

When you read one of their tie-ins you get the feeling you're in the hands of not merely of a fine storyteller, but one who thoroughly understands the details of the genre, and the particularly universe where they're dabbling.

Today, for the "collectible of the week," I'm looking back at what might be termed the pre-history of these media tie-ins, in particular, a book I've owned since I was a little kid. It's the "authorized edition" of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea by Raymond F. Jones. Whitman Publishing Company (in Racine, Wisconsin) published this hardcover tie-in to the Irwin Allen series back in 1965...over forty years ago.

The book is 212 pages (of fairly large type), divided into eleven chapters with titles like "Doom Beneath the Sea," "The Magnetic Field" and "Farewell to Minos." Also - as a real plus - the book is peppered by a series of illustrations from Leon Jason Studios. These pictures are basic, and yet I find them rather lovely.

I always had a fascination with submarines when I was young. One of my favorite movies was the Walt Disney adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea starring James Mason, and I also owned a toy GI Joe submarine (replete with giant squid!) that could go diving deep below the surface of the backyard swimming pool. So Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was a natural for me. I always enjoyed the adventures of the Seaview and dreamed of piloting the Flying Submarine myself. When I was young, I didn't detect that the series became campy as it went along. To me, it was just a grand adventure.

This sturdy, solid book has remained with me through adolescence and now adulthood, its pages increasingly yellowed and parched; it's spine still strong, if tattered in a few spots. And you know something? The writing isn't half bad, either. Here's an excerpt:

"THE SEA mothered the giant gray submarine. With easy strength it lifted the vessel on long, rolling waves, then plunged it beneath the surface, only to raise it once more and bathe it in whitecaps and spray.

Captain Lee Crane stood at the huge, square observation ports in the bow of the Seaview and watched the breaking waves expectantly. At each plunge the water surged over the ports and drowned the world outside. Then, as the ship lifted, the water drained in shining cascades and sunlight poured in."

Well, I must have read this particular adventure of the Seaview a dozen times, and dreamed of wild adventures beneath the waves, manning the torpedoes or standing at the giant windows of the observation bay. So I just wanted to share my memories of this book today.

I have no doubt that - in some fashion - reading novelizations and tie-ins (like the James Blish Star Trek books...) - only stoked my enthusiasm for TV, film, and I feel good knowing that fine authors are performing the same duty for the next generation...

20 Years Ago: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

After the box office disappointment and mixed critical notices of  Mars Attacks!  (1996), director Tim Burton returned to theaters in...