Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Movie Trailer: The Lords of Salem (2013)

Theme Song of the Week: Sea Hunt (1958)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Ask JKM a Question: Where did the Moon Go in Planet of the Apes (1968)?



A regular reader, Steven writes about Planet of the Apes (1968):

Like you John, I think this is one of the greatest science-fiction films ever made, and which still holds up today.”

“In Planet of the Apes (1968) after the astronauts splashdown in and abandon their A.N.S.A. spaceship we see a clear blue sky as Taylor wanders with the others, speculating about what this planet is and stating "...there is no moon...". We know there was a nuclear war that devastated the surface of the Earth, but what happened to the Moon? It is a clear blue sky and no moon at all. What do you think?

I know the answer that it blasted out of Earth orbit on September 13th, 1999 will be very tempting...”

Steven, you read my mind about the Space: 1999 solution. 

It’s clear to me that Moonbase Alpha and the 311 scientists and astronauts stationed there escaped the rise of the planet of the apes when the moon was blasted out of orbit…

But seriously, I think the most likely answer is that Taylor (Charlton Heston) is simply mistaken about the presence of a moon. 

He doesn’t see a moon, but the moon is still there, obscured, perhaps, by the thick clouds we see “glowing” later that night. 

Another possible answer is that the moon is itself destroyed.  Since the film takes place nearly 2,000 years from now, we could speculate about a cosmic collision of some type, or perhaps even the moon crashing into the Earth, a catastrophe which I suppose could account for some of the desolate, inhospitable terrain of the Forbidden Zone and other areas.

If there were one line of dialogue I would remove from Planet of the Apes, this “there is no moon” line would be a prime candidate, because in retrospect is seems put there just to throw audiences off the track. 

We believe that this strange world can’t be Earth in part because Taylor has established there is no moon.  

It’s one of the few facts we get during the course of the film that leads us to believe we actually are on a faraway world.  And of course, we’re not.  Taylor has come home.

Planet of the Apes features so many virtues, and yes, it is my favorite science fiction film of all time.  But if it came out today with this line of dialogue intact, I might point it out in my review as a kind of cheap way to maintain secrecy for the surprise ending.  The funny thing is that the film could have probably gotten away with not mentioning the moon at all. But then I guess nitpickers would ask why Taylor doesn’t just look up at the moon and realize he has come home to Earth…

Very interesting question, my friend!

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Libraries



A library is a repository for information and information resources utilized by a particular community for purposes of reference and history. 

Libraries date far back into Antiquity….approximately 5,000 years, with the first being constructed in ancient Sumeria and consisting of cuneiform tablets.

Throughout cult-TV history -- and especially pre-Internet -- the library has proven a critical setting in terms of science fiction and horror programming.  In many series, heroes make use of the library to learn information about a case or person they happen to be investigating.


In the late 1960s, Star Trek envisioned a futuristic library called “Memory Alpha” in the third season episode “The Lights of Zetar.”  This planet-sized library houses the “total cultural history and scientific knowledge of all Federation members” and is available to all scholars in the galaxy.  

During the course of the episode, the undefended facility is invaded by life-forms consisting of light, and severe damage is done to the library.  Fortunately, the Enterprise conducts repairs.

In the same season, another episode titled“All Our Yesterdays” involves an alien library, one where each data disc (forecasting digital storage…) opens a gateway to another time and place in planetary history.  The librarian on this world, Sarpeidon, is named Mr. Atoz (Ian Wolfe)…as in Mr. A-to-Z. 


Another futuristic, planet-sized library is featured in the Doctor Who universe (2005 - ).  In the two-part story “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead,” the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and his companion Donna (Catherine Tate) visit a vast, empty library in the 51st century, and find that it is haunted by the hungry Vashta Narada…creatures that live in the shadows.  This is also the narrative wherein the Doctor first encounters River Song (Alex Kingston).


In Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2002), Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) Scoobie-Gang is headquartered in the Sunnydale High School Library during the first three seasons. There, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) maintains an extensive collection of books concerning the Hellmouth and all manners of demons.  These books become a problem for MOO (Mothers Opposed to the Occult) in the third season episode, “Gingerbread.”


In another popular cult series, Veronica (Kristen Bell) works in the Hearst University Library during the third season of Veronica Mars (2004 – 2007). 

Both Carl Sagan’s series Cosmos: A Personal Journey (1980) and SeaQuest DSV (1993 – 1996) traveled during their runs to the ancient Egyptian library of Alexandria, the great repository constructed during the reign of the Ptolemys (323 – 246 BC).  The library burned down in real life, but through the wonders of cult television magic, it was once more made to seem “real.”  In the latter case, the first season SeaQuest episode “Treasure of the Mind” involves a group of raiders stealing relics from the recently discovered Library, found at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.


The Cult-TV Faces of: The Library

Identified by Carl: The Twilight Zone: "Time Enough at Last." (New York Public Library)

Identified by William Mercado: Star Trek: "The Lights of Zetar" (Memory Alpha).

Identified by Carl: Star Trek: "All Our Yesterdays," (Library of Sarpeidon).

Identified by Carl: Land of the Lost, Library of Skulls.

Identified by William Mercado: Cosmos: A Personal Journey, Alexandria Library.

Identified by Carl: The Simpsons. Springfield Public Library.

7

8

Identified by Carl: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Sunnydale High School Library.

10


Identified by Carl: Doctor Who: "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead." - 51st Century Library.


Television and Cinema Verities #68


"I came in kind of sullen and all the other female actresses came in bright-eyed and bushy tailed…. I was thinking, “Please let’s get this over with, I’d like to go home and go to bed. Thank you very much.” Of course Gil was challenged…. If you meet Gil you’ll find he’s quite charming and funny, and he had this sullen woman who he kept trying to make smile. And the more he worked, the more sullen I got and the more in his face I became…. It ended up being the perfect dynamic for the test, and for the character."

- Erin Gray discusses her audition, alongside Gil Gerard, for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 - 1981) at Wired.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Monument(al) Destruction 12: Oblivion (2013)



Star Blazers Episode #8


The eighth episode of the animated series Star Blazers (1979) continues the story-line commenced in the previous installment.  Specifically, the Gamilons have used their powerful new weapon, the Reflex Gun, to disable the Argo and send it sinking to the bottom of an ocean on Pluto.

In this story, Captain Avatar plans to strike back by using the Gamilons’ reflective satellites against them.  

When the Reflex Gun fires once more, the Argo personnel are able to use the satellites to determine its position (under an ice field on Pluto…) and launch missiles to disable it.

Meanwhile, Wildstar commands a dangerous mission to the Gamilon base and meets the first non-aligned aliens in the series: Pluto’s cute Protozoa creatures, who “feel like slippery grape gelatin.”  The alien creatures look like the Blob, only with eyes.  These aliens aren’t advanced, and perhaps lack much more than rudimentary intelligence.  They are put to sleep with harmless gas so Wildstar can gain access to the enemy headquarters.



Once inside that base, Wildstar must avoid booby traps and blow up a reactor, thereby destroying the threat to Earth from additional planet bombs.  Victorious, Captain Avatar declares “And now…onto Iscandar” with just 354 days remaining until Earth’s destruction.

In a deliberate mirror image of that victory, Desslok orders his defeated forces on Pluto not to return to Gamilon until the Star Force is destroyed.

As I wrote about in regards to episode seven, Star Blazers has become a fairly formulaic show, featuring strategic move and counter-move, but with little forward momentum and almost no character development to go along with the pitched battles.  I’m hoping it’s just a rough patch here, because this has only recently become the case.


I’m hoping this is the last “Gamilons test new weapon on Argo, which ekes out a surprise victory” story for a while.  When I watched the series as a kid, I don’t remember it being a military war show to the exclusion of every other consideration.

I’m with Avatar: let’s head out into unexplored space, to Iscandar, and see what’s out there.  I’ll let you know next week where the ninth episode takes the developing narrative…

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Monument(al) Destruction #11: Galactica 1980: "Galactica Discovers Earth"


Cult-TV Gallery: Vasquez Rocks

The Outer Limits: "The Zanti Misfits."

Star Trek: "Arena."

The Invaders

Shazam: "The Treasure."

Logan's Run

Buck Rogers: "Flight of the War Witch Part I."

Buck Rogers: "Journey to Oasis."

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Who Watches the Watchers."

Space: Above and Beyond.

Star Trek: Voyager

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Primeval."


Alias.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Shazam: "The Treasure" (October 19, 1974)



In “The Treasure,” Billy (Michael Gray) and Mentor (Les Tremayne) learn that thieves have been stealing Native American treasures from sacred ground, and desecrating “the desert,” which is a prime concern of the Elders, who declare the territory “rich” in Indian “history.” 

Billy and Mentor team up with a Native American boy, Johnny and his grandfather to stop the thieves, and preserve “the beauty of the land.”  The thieves, however, nearly escape from a nearby airport…until Captain Marvel stops them.



Like almost every episode of Shazam’s first season thus far, “The Treasure” features no interior locations, only exteriors. 

What makes “The Treasure” fun, however, is the nature of the location shooting.  The episode is shot at the famous Vasquez Rocks, home of the Zanti Misfits (The Outer Limits), the Gorn (Star Trek), and other cult-TV series including The Invaders, Space: Above and Beyond, and Alias.  The famous angled/pointed mountain rock can be seen in “The Treasure” but from a different angle than featured in most programs.  Here, Mentor’s RV -- with the Captain Marvel lightning bolt emblazoned on the hood -- drives down a path right in front of that craggy outcropping.



Otherwise, “The Treasure” is distinguished primarily by its more-accomplished than-usual final action scene.  Here, Captain Marvel (Jackson Bostwick) chases down a fast-moving plane on the runway, grabs a rudder, and brings the craft to a dead stop.  Through the use of fast-motion photography and a few other tricks, the super heroics actually come off looking rather impressive.


And for those cataloging such factors, “The Treasure” marks the second time in seven episodes (after “The Brothers”) in which Billy’s secret identity as Captain Marvel is learned by an outsider. In this case, it’s the trustworthy Grandfather who knows the truth.

In terms of my retrospective here on the blog, I must confess that Shazam is monumentally uninteresting after seven episodes, and therefore difficult to commit to on a long term basis.  The episodes are preachy, predictable and uninteresting.  There’s not much variation in storytelling.

I’m thinking I’ll get through the first season (nine episodes to go…) and then switch to another Saturday morning series… 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Happy 30th Anniversary to Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction

Destinies Host Dr. Howard Margolin (left) and JKM (right) share a con panel in 2004


Destinies-The Voice of Science Fiction celebrates its 30th anniversary today at  11:00 PM on 90.1FM, WUSB, Stony Brook (net0casting at www.wusb.fm), with a one-hour special featuring encore readings by authors Ross Rosenfeld (The Stolen Kingdom), William Latham (Space: 1999-Alpha), Patrick Thomas (Fairy Rides the Lightning), and Drew Henriksen (Dragons and Science). 

Also, new music by composers Murray Gold (Doctor Who), Frederik Wiedmann (Green Lantern-The Animated Series), Marco Beltrami (Warm Bodies), and Dennis Dreith (Creep Van) will be featured. Plus, Synergy's version of "Classical Gas" and the results of Christopher DeFilippis' "Sci-Fi Madness" in volume 2, number 136 of "DeFlip Side." 

After the broadcast, the show will be archived for free at www.captphilonline.com/Destinies.html.

I have been a big fan of Destinies since the year 2000 when I first began listening, and I'm an even bigger fan of its always-prepared, always-smart host, Dr. Howard Margolin.  If you can, check out the show tonight and help celebrate the anniversary.


Comic Review: To Hell You Ride, Issue #4



To Hell You Ride, the five-part comic-book epic by Lance Henriksen, Joseph Maddrey, and Tom Mandrake roars back into the pop-culture spotlight with the publication of its fourth issue on May 14…in just a few short weeks.

This fourth issue of this inventive horror series finds Jim Shipp’s quarantined town still under siege by the government’s black helicopters, and now by foreign nationals who have been authorized to kill Americans with impunity in order to contain the crisis. 

The contaminated snow which is responsible for the deaths and the consequent occupation has caused the town to become “divided against itself,” a metaphor, perhaps for America today, almost universally caught in the grip of fear.  That fear, interestingly, is termed an “addiction” in the comic, and addiction ties in with the saga’s running themes, I submit, about contamination and also avarice.   To Hell You Ride implies a modern society overdosing on fear, greed, and violence.

The same emergency has also created two breeds of people, notes the narration: The Insiders, who hide behind locked doors and are afraid of the snow, and the Outsiders who are afraid of the heat that the draconian presence of martial law now brings to them.  Instead of unifying as a single, strong force, the Insiders and Outsiders turn on each other with lethal ferocity.

Sheriff Shipps -- the Lance Henriksen character, essentially -- finds himself in an impossible situation here, attempting to preserve his town as it once was while all Hell breaks loose.  Armed mobs have begun wandering the streets, opening fire on others, and this issue witnesses the death of a major protagonist. 

Finally, the story ends with the ominous notation that “The End is Here,” a reflection of the fact that the final chapter of the saga is upon us.


One thematic conceit underlying this issue of To Hell You Ride is the nature of time itself.  The narration which opens the book notes that time is “not an arrow.  It does not fly straight from past to future.”  

Instead, the audience learns, “Time is a web…everything it touches sends out vibrations.” 

If this information is parsed in terms of story specifics, I take it to mean that the actions which occurred long ago -- and which initiated the curse -- have caused reverberations through time itself, climaxing with the town divided dangerously against itself in the present.  Everyone is suffering because of the actions committed long ago, when the land was sacrificed for the white man’s avarice.  That act was the rock thrown into the placid waters of time, and the shock waves have only begun to crash against the shores of “now.”

Intriguingly, this fourth chapter of the saga also introduces the “Spider,” the creature/being who strides atop the web of time, and I found this character to be a sinister reflection, oddly enough, of the other corrupt humans we’ve seen so far, in the story, namely Blackwash and the (now-deceased) Mayor Cubby Boyers. 


To write too much more about The Spider and the fourth issue’s narrative would ruin some of the surprises, but suffice it to say that To Hell You Ride still possesses the power to shock and awe, and to deeply unsettle.  There’s a pulse-quickening momentum behind the pages here, an inevitability that can’t be denied. 

As I read the tale, I kept thinking “the die is cast,” and (in the spirit of a favorite Henriksen movie, Pumpkinhead), that the curse is going to run its course, with all the damage that “course” entails. 

With that sense of inevitability in mind, the last frame of Issue #4 is very ominous because of what it portends for another protagonist, and I get the feeling that things are not exactly going to end well.

I’ll be eagerly anticipating the final chapter of To Hell You Ride, and remembering, specifically, the fourth issue’s words about death.

Death is not an end, only a change in shape, a shift in worlds.

I have a feeling that this particular nugget of wisdom will play powerfully in the finale…

Order your copy here!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The X-Files 20th Anniversary Blogging: "3" (November 4, 1994)



The second season episode “3” has never been particularly well-regarded by fans of The X-Files, and there are reasons that support this point-of-view.

For instance, this is an episode where Mulder works alone, and Scully is nowhere to be found, thus flouting conventional formula. 

And, shippers may be disappointed or angry because Mulder experiences a sexual liaison with a woman in the story who is not Scully. 

Indeed a certain percentage of the hostility aimed at “3” apparently revolves around Mulder having intimate relations with another woman.  Some fans consider this an emotional betrayal, though of course, that’s a silly viewpoint.  The episode makes it pretty clear that Mulder and Kristin connect on a physical level, but not much else.   Mulder makes love to Kristin because he is on a nihilist tear, living in a world that seems to be spiraling out-of-control, inching ever towards annihilation.

These qualities certainly mark “3” as atypical, but I’ll be honest: I often appreciate episodes of series that are willing to bend or break the rules, to try something new. 

If nothing else, “3” impresses in this regard, stretching the series format in the process.  It’s an episode that looks and feels very different from the typical series installment, and on those grounds alone must be regarded as something of an artistic success…even if it isn’t a particularly popular or acclaimed story.

As has become a staple on X-Files stories, “3” bases it monster-of-the-week -- the “Unholy Trinity” -- on a real scientific idea, and pinpoints trenchant visuals to echo it’s “the blood is the (dangerous) life” thesis.

What ultimately emerges is a widely-disdained episode but a highly visual --even visceral -- story dripping in style and mood…even if it is not the intellectual/humorous dance fans have come to expect and adore from this franchise.


With Scully still missing after her apparent abduction by aliens, Mulder (David Duchovny) re-opens the X-Files and flies to Los Angeles to investigate a strange new case.  A murder victim has been drained entirely of blood.  Mulder has been tracking similar crimes and suspects a trio of modern-day, science-spawned vampires known as “The Unholy Trinity.”

Mulder stakes out the Hollywood Blood Bank in hopes that an employee there, the new night watchman, may be one of the criminals.  Mulder apprehends the criminal, a man who insists that the he is a vampire and can live forever.  Soon after this boast, the man burns up when exposed to sunlight, a side-effect, Mulder believes, of Gunther’s Disease.

Soon, Mulder meets a dark and mysterious woman with a thirst for blood, Kristin (Perrey Reeves), at a club appropriately called Tepes.  He suspects that she holds the key to apprehending the other two corners of the murderous triangle.


Commendably, “3” film looks, sounds, and feels like a Michael Mann film circa 1986. Kristin’s modern apartment, with its opaque glass partitions and spare, minimalist decoration evokes similar settings from Manhunter (1986), and in terms of narrative and theme, “3” also contends with typical Mann obsessions, like the solitary law enforcement official drawn into an underworld of moral-relativity and crime. 

There’s the tragic affair between two people from different worlds too -- here Mulder and Kristin -- and also a generally humorless tenor.  These are hallmarks of Mann’s ascetic or stoic films.

Accordingly, “3” is very much a Los Angeles noir -- like Heat (1995) -- with the ubiquitous threat of looming forest fires always representing a secondary jeopardy to life and limb.  The world itself has become contaminated and “unnatural” by the “blood sports” of its people, the episode intimates.

Los Angeles Noir.

Beyond the intriguing Mann vibe, “3” is fascinating in terms of its specific visuals.  I would submit that David Nutter literally and metaphorically “colors” the episode scarlet red, in direct response to the thematic leitmotif about blood representing both danger, perhaps, and immortality.  We see the opening images of red wine in a cracked, overturned glass, then red (fire-fighting) spray dotting the Los Angeles sky, red lights also shading the blood bank, and even red “berry” sauce at a bloody crime scene.  The episode then culminates in an orgy of blood stains, in Kristin’s garage, in the oven, on Mulder’s unshaven neck, even.  The episode is about blood released, passion released.  And worse, that passion is -- as we learn from Kristin -- unsavory and self-destructive.

The underlying point here is that Kristin can’t escape the allure of her “blood sport” with the Unholy Trinity, and that as much as she attempts to reject it, she is also drawn to it…to the flame that burns out of control.

I always argue that the highest apex of quality for film or television is attained when form reflects and augments content, and one can legitimately make that case regarding “3.”  All the visual material contributes to the disordered nature of the narrative’s world.

Red Wine.

Red Light District.

Red Sky

Red Villain.

Red Sauce

Red Moon.

Lady in Red.

The scientific truth underlying “3” involves a condition that Mulder mentions in passing: Gunther Disease.  This illness was named for Dr. Hans Gunther (1884 – 1956), who discovered the condition, and is also described by doctors as “congenital erythropoietic porphyria.”  Those suffering from this condition show dramatic physical symptoms when exposed to direct sunlight.  Such exposure can cause scarring, blistering and redness, of the skin, as “3” demonstrates in one grotesque make-up sequence.

Porphyria.

What’s ultimately missing in this episode -- perhaps because of Scully’s absence -- is a satisfactory explanation for the Unholy Trinity’s ability to regenerate and survive after such severe sun exposure.  Were Scully around, she would no doubt have some intriguing theories to put forth, but of course, she’s not here…and that’s the point.

To expand on that point, “3” depicts a world of madness and danger where the ameliorating voice of science and rationality is nowhere to be found. Mulder is living a kind of nihilistic, aimless existence in this episode. He’s half-a-man without Scully, his other eye, to help him “see.”  He says he isn’t sleeping, and clearly he’s given hope regarding Scully’s disposition.  Mulder then goes out on a case in L.A. and finds himself confronted directly with the idea that there is “no Heaven, no soul…just rot and decay.” 

But of course, some folks get off on rot and decay, on death itself….

This observation about “no Heaven, no soul…just rot and decay” seems backed-up by the constant “crisis alerts” due to the forest fires, and by the predatory nature of the Unholy Trinity.  They are urban predators who hunt based on society’s desire to walk right up to the edge of moral behavior.  It isn’t hard for them to find willing victims.  The folks at “Clube Tepes,” pretty clearly, are seeking new and dangerous pleasures.

Mulder ultimately partakes in the darkness with Kristin, and has a brief sexual relationship with her.  But importantly, he does so not because he is in love with Kristin, but because he has lost hope, I would submit.  He’s on a sort of dark “death spiral” in this story, and the episode is dominated by images of life disordered, from the broken wine glasses to the moon turned blood red.

Seen in this context, “3” is actually Mulder’s journey into the heart of darkness, and -- finally – his rejection of it.  These events, including his dalliance with Kristin, are an important part of his grieving process, and to dismiss “3” out-of-hand is to ignore what the narrative adds to the character’s odyssey.  “3” is Mulder’s journey through – and out of – Hell itself.  He realizes he is not as hopeless as Kristin is, nor as desperate.  He isn’t willing to surrender to the inevitability of death just because “blood tastes dangerous.”  He is better than that. 

So, yes, Scully is missed here, of course, but Gillian Anderson was not available (due to her pregnancy) and if The X-Files ever wanted to tell a story of sexual dalliance and Mulder’s flirtation with nihilism, “3” clearly offered the opportunity.  I am glad Chris Carter and the others involved in the episode’s creation took a big chance.   I wish fans could see that, in a weird way, Mulder attaches to Kristin because of his feeling for Scully.  It’s not like -- as some fans seem to feel -- they are married at this point, and he is being unfaithful to her.  Instead, Mulder is lost, and missing the most important connection in his life.  He takes solace in (empty) sexual pleasure…so sue him.

I would submit that “3” is precisely what it hopes and desires to be: a walk on the wilder, more dangerous, and more nihilistic side of The X-Files equation. “3” may not be a conventional X-Files episode, but the story and visualizations are “sweet and thick,” in Kristin’s descriptive words, layered with ominous fin de siècle, Michael Mann-ish imagery.   Frankly, there’s absolutely no other episode like this one in the X-Files canon, and so we can either curse it for not following the accepted pattern, or praise it for its surprises and contrasts.

Another way to look at it: Without “3”, we wouldn’t be able to witness our troubled hero take his beginning steps back into the light.

Next week: Scully returns from her abduction in “One Breath.”

National Twilight Zone Day: "Come Wander with Me"

There are, perhaps, several episodes of Rod Serling's classic   The Twilight Zone  (1959-1964) more sharply-written, more morally-valuab...