Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Korg 70,000 BC: "The Ancient One"

In “The Ancient One,” Korg (Jim Malinda), Bok (Bill Ewing) and Tane (Christopher Man) find an old man in a grave while out hunting, following a week of rain.  The stranger’s name is Lar, and the people of his tribe have abandoned him because it believes an old man has no value in the survival-oriented world of the Neanderthal.

Although Bok wants to leave Lar for dead in the burial mound since that is the old man’s wish, Korg rescues him and brings him back to the cave.  

This proves to be a good decision, because Lar demonstrates for his family a hunting technique that will distract a deer, and allow an easy kill.  “A man can hunt a deer without throwing a spear,” Korg and the others learn.

The hunters in Lar’s tribe find Korg’s family, but don’t want to take Lar back with them, because he is too old to go hunting.  Korg says the old man can remain with his family, because he has one great value: experience.

Although the message -- to respect and value your elders – is quite nice,“The Ancient One” is pretty much a straight-up re-hash of “The Picture Maker.” 

To wit, this is the story of someone with unconventional, non-physical, non-survival skills (like the ability to draw, or the benefit of experience), but who is nonetheless welcomed into the family Korg. 

Oddly, Lar stays with the family at the end of this episode, but by the next episode, “The Story of Lumi,” is gone, and not even mentioned once.  It would have been much more interesting to report that the old man died, rather than to leave open a gaping discontinuity in the series.

And speaking of discontinuity, neither this episode, nor “The Picture Maker,” explain how Korg and his family won their home cave back from the original bear intruder.

I really like and enjoy Korg 70,000 BC, but it seems apparent that the rush of production is having an impact on the scripts at this juncture (more than half way into the run).  There are a lot of good stories early on, like the amazing “The Hill People,” “Magic Claws” or even “The Moving Rock.”  But this is one of those stories that seems to be flying on automatic pilot.  There is nothing new here, just a substitution of one character (an elder too old to hunt) for another (a boy afraid to hunt).

Next week: “The Story of Lumi.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Secrets of Isis: "Spots of the Leopard"

In the second episode of Filmation’s Secrets of Isis, a student named Jenny Nelson (Debra Scott) confides to Cindy Lee (Joanna Pang) that she has a problem with her father.  

Mr. Nelson (Lou Frizzell) went to prison for the theft of diamonds, and now is out of jail.  But Jenny has lied to present him an alibi when an insurance investigator checks in on him.

Worse, Jenny discovers that her father's wallet is full of money that he shouldn’t have.  Has Mr. Nelson relapsed into a life of crime? Should she tell the police?

Cindy informs Mrs. Thomas (Joanna Cameron), her chemistry teacher, about the problem, and Andrea realizes this could be a job for Isis.  She learns that Mr. Nelson is actually trying to clear his name, and is being framed by the aforementioned insurance investigator (Paul Jenkins).

Isis helps set the matter straight and helps to affirm Jenny’s faith in her father...

In the 1970s, there were basically two superhero TV series templates that could be followed. 

One was the relatively straight-forward Adventures of Superman (1951 – 1958) model, and the other was the campy, colorful tongue-in-cheek Batman (1966 – 1968).

Series such as Monster Squad (1976) and Electra-Woman and Dyna-Girl (from the Kroftts) opted for the latter approach, whereas Filmation’s series, Shazam! And Secrets of Isis went or the more direct, straight approach.  

In fact, Isis is really a distaff version of Superman. Andrea Thomas, like Clark Kent, hides behind a pair of glasses.  She has a “cover” job for her secret identity, but as a teacher, not a reporter, and even has a kind of Lois Lane figure here in the form of Rick Mason.

Like most Filmation programs, Isis also relies heavily on didactic messages that teach children how to become good citizens.  Sometimes these messages become down-right oppressive, especially because the “straight” approach to superheroes doesn’t feature the colorful rogue’s gallery you would find on Batman or Electra Girl.

“Spots of the Leopard” reveals the general thin-ness and familiarity of the Isis premise. Isis solves a crime, hides her secret identity, and is never questioned by the police or others about her activities stopping criminals.  It’s very two-dimensional.  Yet this is not a particularly bad episode of the series because Lou Frizell gives a memorable, strong performance as Chuck Nelson, the Dad who has done bad, and is trying to redeem himself. 

Also, the criminal -- the duplicitous insurance agent -- nearly gets away with his plan.  Good thing Isis overhears his evil plan.

In terms of Isis’s powers, this episode reveals her levitating a car as the villain tries to flee the scene.

Next week: “Fool’s Dare.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Cult-Movie Review: Ouija (2014)

The horror movie Ouija (2014) earned a slew of negative reviews when it was released last fall, even though it was a sizable hit at the box office, earning over ninety million dollars against a five million dollar budget.

The reasons for the critical negativity are, by-and-large, valid. The film’s characters are thinly-defined, there are some gaping holes in logic and plausibility in the narrative, and the story adheres to too many horror clichés.

Worse -- at least in terms of my personal viewing -- I have been absolutely spoiled by the good independent horror films of late (The Babadook [2014], Honeymoon [2014] to name two).  This means that my patience for Ouija’s flaws is probably at a low-ebb.

But I’ll be blunt about this: Ouija is not nearly as bad as many reviewers claims it is, and the film could perhaps even be termed enjoyable…if only one decides to view it from a particular perspective, or to consider it from a certain context.

Specifically, this horror film is a complete and total call-back to the genre as it looked in the late 1970s and 1980s, if not in terms of visualizations or color palette, then certainly in terms of its characters and situations. 

Individual shots in Ouija recall moments from Halloween (1978), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and other films from that time period. The numerous clichés -- though they are clichés -- are the very ones that you can find in a dozen or more movies from this very time period.

So yes, the film is problematic and flawed. No sense beating around the bush.

Yet if one attempts to watch it as one might have watched a horror film in 1984, Ouija is not the total wreck or time waster some critics claim. Instead, it’s a new addition in the long-standing “teenagers-fight-the-supernatural” sub-genre.  Roger Ebert would have called it a “Dead Teenager” movie.

Viewing Oujia from this perspective helps to alleviate some critical concerns about the movie, and actually makes it a bit more tolerable.  It appears that so many critics chose to complain about another movie being based on a board game (like 2012’s Battleship), that they actually missed the contextual clues that this is a truly an old-fashioned-style horror movie with shout-outs to some famous titles in the canon.

You won’t love Ouija. It’s not a great horror film.  But you may experience a pleasant sense of déjà vu from watching it.

“I don’t want to be in this house. It feels wrong.”

Teenager Laine (Olivia Cooke) is shocked and confused when her best friend Debbie (Shelley Hennig) kills herself after reporting that she has been playing with a Ouija board.

Seeking answers, Laine, Debbie’s boyfriend, Peter (Douglas Smith), Izzie (Bianca A. Santos), Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), and Laine’s sister, Sarah (Ana Coto) attempt to contact Debbie’s spirit using her spirit board.

Although they are mindful of Ouija’s rules -- don’t play it alone, always say goodbye when you are finished, and never play it in a graveyard -- something goes wrong, and the teens contact a dangerous spirit with the initials “DZ….”

“You played in a graveyard and now she’s awake again…”

Like many horror films (and particularly slasher and rubber reality films…) of the seventies and eighties, Ouija is all about a small clique or group of teenagers who unexpectedly countenance the supernatural, and watch their numbers dwindle, all while reckoning with the idea that they could be next…that they are mortal.

In this world, parents are absent figures, and downright useless. They can’t help fight the terror that is threatening their children, and claiming their lives. We see this paradigm in Halloween, wherein Laurie’s parents, the Strodes, are missing-in-action.  Or A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), where parental authority figures are unable to effectively combat Freddy, or even believe in his presence. 

In Ouija, the clique of Laine, Peter, Sarah, Izzie and Trevor “transgresses,” or breaks the rules of the board game, and is haunted by a spectral force.  We meet Lane’s father, but he promptly leaves town, even after Debbie’s recent death…  And following her death, Debbie’s parents turn care of the house over to Laine, a teenager, and then are never seen or heard from again.

Now, on one hand, this development is absolutely a gap in believability.

Would you leave the care and tending of your very expensive house to a group of teenagers who have just experienced a terrible loss? 

Not only that, but would you leave them with the keys to the house, and not even give them a return date? 

I can argue that this is a gap in believability and plotting. But amusingly, it is exactly the kind of gap in believability we expect to experience in slasher and rubber reality films. In these films, high school is the center of the universe, and the dramatis personae are all kids.  It’s a teenager’s world.  So it was then, and so it is now, in Ouija.  There’s even a scene here featuring a useless high school guidance counselor.

In specific terms, Ouija actually recreates visually (though not shot for shot) some moments from the films I mention.  There’s a scene here in which Laine slowly walks home from school with a friend, and we see the wide sidewalk and a large green hedge nearby.  Again, the shots aren’t the same, but in purpose, context and placement the moment is a reiteration of the scene in Halloween wherein Laurie walks home with Annie.

Similarly, major plot-points are discussed at the exterior entrance to high school in Ouija, just as they are in the opening scenes of a Nightmare on Elm Street, as the clique gathers and gets ready to attend class.

Also like the Elm Street films, the teenagers each die in their own individual hallucination (one involves a dental flossing that becomes a lip-sewing trauma…), and the secret of stopping the spectral avenger involves a furnace in the central house’s basement, where a secret has been left  untended. You’ll recall that Freddy’s glove and hat were stored in the Thompson house basement in A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Debbie’s house also hides such deadly secrets in Ouija.

Ouija’s idea of creativity, however, is to substitute the supernatural dynamic of A Nightmare on Elm Street with the one from The Ring (2002).  In particular, there’s the spirit here of a young girl, who is apparently trapped in the house. And then we get the “shocking” (actually predictable…) moment wherein characters realize that this spirit should never be freed because she is the source of true evil.

It’s not a fair trade, really. Freddy, at least at first, was pretty scary. Samara was too, I guess, but there’s something over-familiar about the supernatural details of Ouija. The film very badly needs an effective boogeyman to elevate its story of teens against the universe into something fresh or new-seeming…and it doesn’t get it.

Ouija’s overarching message, more or less, is stated by the ethnic grandmother/character (another cliché) who warns Laine “don’t go seeking answers from the dead.” 

The point is that Laine and the others live in a world where parental authority and knowledge is absent, and they choose a dangerous oracle/medium, the Ouija board, in the absence of that presence. 

Again, this is not at all far from the dynamic of Craven’s 1984 masterpiece, wherein Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) must dig for the truth, and must overcome the inertia and corruption of the parental figures in her life.  This idea is handled with brilliance in Elm Street.  It is handled in far more basic terms in Ouija, but the resonances are there.

Sadly, only a few moments in the film are genuinely chilling. Perhaps the most effective such “scare” scene sees Trevor walk his bike through a dark tunnel, only to stop half-way through because he spots a shopping carriage, and something scrawled in chalk on one of the concrete walls.  This well-orchestrated moment captures our universal fear of the dark, the fear of being trapped somewhere with no easy escape, and more. 

The rest of the terrors presented in the film are rigidly formulaic.

In 2007, I wrote Horror Films of the 1980s and watched many slasher and rubber-reality films.  Some were inspired, some were good, and most were just run-of-the-mill, repeating the same core tenets laid down in the best films of these types (Carpenter’s; Craven’s). Ouija is no better and no worse than a lot of those films, so it seems silly to pillory it as one of the year’s worst efforts.

Instead, it might be more apt to point out that the film attempts to resurrect the teenager-against-the-universe trope that was a staple of 1980s genre storytelling, one overturned, finally, for the professional setting of the 1990s horror “interloper” films.

It’s easy to gaze at Ouija as a basic, uninspired modern horror film.  But in some way, those who grew up with films of this type might enjoy the familiarity and comfort it provides. We already know every beat, every challenge, every twist in the narrative.  We know where it’s all headed (right down to the predictable sting-in-the-tail/tale.)

But it’s been a long time since we saw all these familiar touches played out again, especially without any interference from post-modern or meta touches. Ouija’s sole and most significant virtue may be not that it revives 1980s “dead teenager” tropes, but that it does so with an absolute straight-face and total belief in the material.

So Ouija is either a bit dumb and a little flat, or a call-back to a time when a lot of dumb, flat horror movies found an audience by aping the best of the form (Halloween and Elm Street) and showcasing a teenagers-against-the-world dynamic.

I’ll be a glass-is-half-full guy, and go with the latter choice.

Movie Trailer: Ouija (2014)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

At Flashbak: This is not a Book! A Gallery of the Fotonovel, the Photostory, and Photonovels

My latest article at Flashbak remembers the era (1976 - 1982) of the Fotonovel or Photostory, a publication featuring images from popular films.

"In the era of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, it’s difficult to explain to youngsters of 2015 how the children of the 1970s and early 1980s -- pre-VCR -- sometimes spent hours attempting to recreate the experience of watching a beloved film again through other available means such as board games, “novelizations,” building model kits, trading cards, and perhaps most memorably of all: the photonovel.

The photonovel as a printed form arrived in the mid-1970s, just as Star Trek was reaching escape velocity in syndication and Star Wars was on the horizon. A number of different publishers, including Pocket Books, Mandala (Bantam), and Fotonovel Publications began releasing this new style of book; one which features hundreds of still images from the featured film, arranged in chronological/story sequence, with dialogue sometimes featured as comic-book-styled balloons.

Cult-TV Review: Black Mirror (2011 - )

I’ve received quite a few e-mails lately suggesting that I screen the British genre anthology series, Black Mirror (2011 - ), which concerns the dangerous nexus of mankind and his developing technology.

Well, I’ve taken up those reader suggestions and I’m glad I did, because this series is sharply-written, imaginative, and at times downright terrifying. Every segment -- and I’ve now seen all but the Christmas special -- is remarkably thoughtful and intelligent. Frankly, we haven’t had an anthology this good in a while.

Already, comparisons have been made to The Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964) and I understand why that is the case. Rod Serling gazed long and hard at the human condition during the sixties and focused, often, on issues of Civil Rights, conformity, class, and race. 

Black Mirror chooses instead another topic upon which to obsess: the “black screen” of technology, an iPhone or laptop computer for instance. The screen or monitor itself is the crack’d mirror through which we view ourselves and our 21st century times. It’s an appropriate selection from creator Charlie Brooker, because I believe that every individual of my age group, at the very least has experienced some second thoughts about the infiltration of such devices (and social media platforms) into the home, school, and work place. 

Sometimes, you can’t help but to take a look around you and see that everyone is paying attention to their separate screens or monitors, even on family holidays. My generation is the one that bridges the technological divide; having lived probably twenty or so years pre-internet, and twenty-five years post-Internet.

This is not to suggest that such technology is intrinsically bad, or a negative a force in society. In purely selfish terms, my writing career would not exist at all without the Internet. My first few books about classic sci-fi TV (Space: 1999, Battlestar Galactica, One Step Beyond) took off at precisely the same time that the Internet ascended. The reach of those books went far beyond any I could have imagined when I wrote them in the mid-1990s. If you had told me back then that those books (some in dire need of updates…) would still be in print and still selling copies -- in electronic format, no less -- in twenty years, I would have said you were crazy.  But clearly, my audience is on the Net and a lot of my work -- here, at Flashbak, and elsewhere -- is on the Net too. The Net has connected me to a community of like-minded fans and scholars in a remarkable and historically unprecedented way.

But still, I sometimes get that nagging feeling that the ever-present nature of technology is fraying the social contract and somehow separating people from their immediate communities and neighbors.  Also, it is much harder to erase a mistake in this day and age because of technology, than it was when I was young, and that makes me worry for up-and-coming generations, including my son’s.  The world doesn’t need access to every youthful indiscretion ever committed.

Although Black Mirror has only produced a half-dozen or so episodes at this juncture (over a three season span), it has craftily studied the way technology impacts all aspects of public and private life.  It has examined technology in regards to the government and the press (“The National Anthem,” “The Waldo Moment,”) and in light of personal relationships (“The Entire History of Me,” “Be Right Back.”)

The series has also demonstrated how reality TV turns everybody into commodities (“Fifteen Million Merits”) and even how the justice system could change because of bystanders filming crimes rather than intervening to stop them (“White Bear.”)  

I’ll make no bones about it, either, Black Mirror starts out with its best episode.  The inaugural segment, “The National Anthem,” concerns a terrorist threat to a princess in England’s Royal Family, and a demand of the Prime Minister that at first seems absurd, then disgusting, and finally inevitable. In particular, the hostage-taker demands the P.M. engage in….sexual congress with a pig on live TV, or the princess will die. The P.M (Rory Kinnear) thinks the demand is a joke, and his advisors prepare a CGI fake, but the arrival of the hostage’s severed finger changes everything. 

“The National Anthem” contends with issues like the irresponsibility of the modern mainstream press, the fickle nature of the public (and public polling), and more. In the story, technology -- in the hands of the press -- makes it virtually impossible for the P.M. to avoid his date with destiny, and with the pig. The story sounds strange and in bad taste, but the opposite is true.  The episode raises profound questions about the way we live now.  I’m thinking about asking my mass media class to watch it because I have never seen a better exploration of the pitfalls of the modern media.

The second Black Mirror story, concerning contestants in a seemingly eternal, society-wide reality TV show, didn’t work quite as well for me. The tale’s message -- that everybody has a price, and is willing to sell out -- is valid, if cynical, and yet I must confess that aspects of the episode’s dystopian society were not entirely clear to me. The episode seems to take place at an industrial human farm devoted to the physical nurturing of reality TV show contestants. The episode makes some relevant points about how business intervenes in art, particularly in its idea that you have to “pay” to skip certain content that is less desirable (like commercials.)  Still, it didn’t quite come together for me at the end.  It might be that I was spoiled.  “The National Anthem” is the best thing I’ve seen on television in the last six months or so.

Another Black Mirror story, “The Entire History of You,” rivals “The National Anthem” for intelligence and imagination. The story concerns a future in which everyone is installed with a storage device that records your vision.  So you can go back in time with a remote control and rewind every argument with your wife, or every moment of a job interview, and so on. It’s like social media is now embedded in your head.  

The story centers around a husband and wife with a young baby, and the husband’s paranoid fear that his wife cheated on him with another man they happen to encounter at a dinner party.  Using the evidence of his recorded memory (and hers), the husband, Liam (Toby Kebbell) makes an airtight case for infidelity, but destroys his entire life – and family -- in the process.

If something happened once, two years ago, was a terrible mistake, and has not been repeated, is it truly worth it to sacrifice your future (and the future of a child…)? 

I know lots of folks will disagree with my assessment, but sometimes it’s better not to know such things, and not to have evidence.  Sometimes it is better to move forward and re-build, and not wallow in the details of a mistake that is closed and gone.  The episode reaches that conclusion in a gut-punch kind of way with an act of cathartic excision that makes the bloody point.

Another well-dramatized and emotionally-affecting story is “Be Right Back,” a story about a young woman, Martha (Hayley Atwell), who can’t get over the grief associated with the accidental death of her husband, Ash (Domnhall Gleson).  She is unexpectedly given the opportunity to reconnect with a facsimile of him courtesy of a computer program that can sample all his online words and activities, and approximate a virtual version of the man. 

At first, the program simply responds in written word, using Ash’s phrases and idioms. But Martha wants to talk to him, and so an imitation voice is synthesized.  And then the opportunity comes to house the program in an ambulatory robot that can be made to exactly mimic Ash’s appearance.

The point -- as you can probably guess -- is that human beings are more than the sum of their virtual activities.  Martha soon comes to realize that pieces of Ash are missing, and that the robot duplicate can never embody the absent sectors.  Refreshingly, the robot is upfront about who he is, and what he is.  He is a device to make the mourning process easier.  The episode becomes truly clever, however, because the audience is left to decide whether Martha’s interlude with the machine was helpful or not.  Did the machine aid Martha’s recovery?  Or did it delay her acceptance of reality?

“White Bear” is the mostly overt “horror” episode of the series that I’ve seen thus far, and it concerns a woman, Victoria (Lenora Crichlow) who wakes up with no memories.  When she leaves her apartment, she is hunted by violent sadistic people in masks.  Worse, people all around won’t stop filming Victoria on their iPhones.  They refuse to step in to help.  She pleads to be saved, and no one answers.

I will ruin no surprises, but this episode is structurally clever, boasts a a hell of a reveal, and once more, the viewer is asked to reckon with what our modern technology does to our traditions of society, in this case related to the justice system.  Again, there’s a two-pronged approach here.  The episode discusses how technology can change crime and punishment, but how people -- and their propensity for voyeurism – doesn’t change.

“The Waldo Moment” is another solid installment, and it handles, explicitly, the notion of a figure in entertainment becoming part of a news cycle. A foul-mouthed cartoon character, Waldo, ends up running for political office, taking a sledge-hammer to the conservative and labour candidates in the process. But unlike either of those two politicians, Waldo is only interested in taking a piss on the system, not improving it. 

Once again, there’s two ways of considering’s Waldo’s world.  Either he is destroying a system that needs to be destroyed, exposing its corruption.  Or he is wrecking the process and enhancing the people’s cynicism, and therefore doing nothing good, for anyone. When we have no one and nothing to believe in, society crumbles.  Waldo is not an adequate substitute for an advocate.

Black Mirror combines near-future speculation with riveting storytelling, and ironic, often emotionally-shattering denouements.  The six episodes I watched are better-than-feature film quality, and remind us again that we are now firmly ensconced in TV’s new golden age.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Late Night Blogging: Knight Rider Toys Edition

Knight Rider (1982 - 1986): "Goliath" (Parts I and II)

Knight Rider…a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in a world of criminals who operate above the law.”

-Knight Rider’s opening narration.

In Knight Rider’s (1982 – 1986) two-part episode, “Goliath,” Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff) challenges a villain who has the same face: Garthe Knight (also played Hasselhoff). 

The evil Knight, is son of the Knight Foundation’s philanthropist, Wilton, and in cahoots with his mother, Elizabeth (Barbara Rush) on a secret mission.

Specifically, Garthe and Elizabeth hope to steal the plans for K.I.T.T.’s “molecular bonded shell plating,” the very aspect of the advanced car that makes him so impervious to damage and attack. 

The evil duo plots to build a new vehicle, a giant, 22 ton semi-truck called “Goliath,” and -- once it is equipped with the shell plating -- penetrate a top secret base in the desert, one that possess dangerous missiles.

Michael and K.I.T.T. attempt to stop Garthe and his plans, but Garthe feels that Michael is a “living, breathing insult” to his existence, and plots to destroy him.

K.I.T.T. battles Goliath in a dangerous and ill-fated first engagement, but comes back strong for a second time…even as Garthe and Michael go head to head…

You just have to love a series in which cars and people alike possess evil doppelgangers or twins.  

Earlier in the week, I reviewed one of the episodes featuring K.I.T.T.'s nasty twin, K.A.R.R., but today I remember this epic two-parter, which establishes the goatee-wearing Garthe Knight as Michael’s “antithesis,” his twisted, evil reflection.

In the case of “Goliath,” there’s actually a good reason why Michael so closely resembles Garthe.  Garthe is the son of Wilton Knight and has been spending time in prison…three life sentences to be precise.  Michael’s face, you my recall, was reconstructed by the Knight Foundation in the pilot episode. We learn in this episode that the model for that surgery was…Garthe.  

That’s a good explanation, and it doesn’t rate as terribly unbelievable. Since Michael has Wilton’s last name, it makes sense, in some way, that he would also have the face of his benefactor’s beloved (if wayward…) son too. Michael is the son that Wilton wanted; Garthe is the one that he ended up with.

“Goliath” is structured so that a major battle recurs.  

At the end of part one, K.I.T.T. and Goliath play chicken, headed straight for one another on a desert road.  K.I.T.T. gets struck by heavily armored truck, and is damaged badly. “I’m afraid we zigged when we should have zagged,” he reports to Michael.  

Echoing the earlier confrontation, the finale of the second part features a rematch between the two vehicles (and their crack’d mirror drivers).  In this case, of course, K.I.T.T. is triumphant, utilizing a laser to pinpoint Goliath’s weak spot. The results of the duels (in both cases) are not unexpected, and yet they are well-orchestrated, and surprisingly suspenseful. I remember film and critics of the 1970s and 1980s complaining endlessly about the ubiquitous nature of car chases and car crashes back in the day, but today these clashes are welcome. For one thing, there's no C.G.I. And for another the stunts are beautifully executed and filmed.

Rationally,  of course, the audience knows Michael and K.I.T.T. will eventually carry the day, and yet when K.I.T.T. is knocked over on his side and left for dead in the desert, you feel it in your gut.

Just a car? No…he’s a driver (and a kid’s…) best friend.

The most intriguing moment of the whole two-part episode occurs following K.I.T.T.’s injury. He makes a heart-felt query to Michael: “Do you think it is possible I could cease to exist?” 

We  thus see the self-aware vehicle (personality) reckoning with the idea of his own mortality, and what that could mean.

The Garthe vs. Michael rivalry in "Goliath" is handled with flair, and good stunt doubles for the most part.  As Garthe, Hasselhoff actually seems to stand taller, and similarly, is a snazzier dresser.  Perhaps it’s just that director Winrich Kolbe picks good angles to show-case the villain, often featuring him in motion, or capturing his action from a slightly lowered (and therefore more imposing) angle.

I watched Knight Rider regularly when I was twelve and thirteen years old, so my affection for it is nostalgic (it brings back good memories), but also technical: I love K.I.T.T.  The best stories, I always felt, where those in which K.I.T.T. and Michael had to go up against a vehicle that rival ed K.I.T.T.’s strength.  Hence my focus this week on K.A.R.R. and Goliath. 

I’m pleased to say that today, “Goliath” retains its entertainment value, and comes off as…very well-assembled.

Knight Rider Rub n'Play Transfer Set

Knight Rider Colorforms

Collectibles of the Week: Knight Rider (Kenner Edition)

Model Kit of the Week: Knight Rider (MPC)

Trading Cards of the Week: Knight Rider

Lunchbox of the Week: Knight Rider

Board Game of the Week: Knight Rider (Parker Brothers; 1982)

Theme Song of the Week: Knight Rider (1982 - 1986)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "There Were Giants in the Earth" (October 6, 1965)

In “There Were Giants in the Earth,” the Robinson family takes productive steps to build a self-sufficient community on the strange world where their ship, the Jupiter 2, has crashed. 

John Robinson (Guy Williams) and Major West (Mark Goddard) set up a force-field to guard their settlement’s perimeter, while Judy (Marta Kristen), Maureen (June Lockhart) and Penny (Angela Cartwright) begin to plant a garden.

Meanwhile, Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) assiduously avoids working all-together.  But when he does help in the garden, he inadvertently spawns giant plant monsters.

Next, a weather station device in the mountains begins to malfunction, and Robinson and West learn that a strange, brutish cyclops has attacked it. The colossus attacks them too, but Will (Bill Mumy) comes to the rescue and saves the day.

Because of dropping temperatures, however, the new settlement will be unlivable in a matter of hours.  Robinson decides the family should flee in the chariot, and head for warmer weather. 

But Smith and the Robot stay behind, in the safety of the Jupiter 2. 

On their journey away from the Jupiter 2, the Robinsons discover an ancient tomb…another sign of life on the planet.

At this point, it is safe to say Lost in Space is moving so fast that one starts to feel some opportunities are being missed, or passed by.  This episode posits both a giant malevolent Cyclops, and an ancient civilization on the planet the humans have just landed upon.  Either one would have made good fodder for an entire episode.  Instead, we are left wanting more...and perhaps that’s the point.

Lost in Space, at this early juncture, is an exciting, thrill-packed series, a story of pioneers in an alien environment, facing challenge after challenge.  The series isn’t deep sci-fi at this juncture, but nor is it the camp apocalypse of the color seasons. I do know this: as a kid I was terrified and obsessed with that giant cyclops for a while. And I loved the interlude in the tomb, with the family finding skeletons inside.

In writing these retrospectives, I’m attempting to keep track of certain ideas and plot-lines. In one of those threads, I’m paying close attention to Dr. Smith and his behavior.  

Here, he is more amusing and shiftless than evil, a change in his usual persona. He ends up staying at the Jupiter 2, however, because of a production point. Harris was not an original cast member, and therefore not included in the pilot.  And the first several episodes re-use elements of the pilot episode. Therefore, having the Robot (another new addition, post-pilot) and Smith remain at camp solves the problem of explaining their absence.

Another point I’m focusing on is the way that sixties attitudes end up seeping into this futuristic adventure series. Last week, in “Islands in the Sky,” for example, the “girls” had to make dinner for the family.  Will?  He was free to do whatever he wanted.

Here, we see Maureen doing the family’s laundry, again with no male help. Still, the laundry operation as depicted here is Jetsons-style cool, with clothes emerging not just washed and dried from the family machine, but neatly folded as well.

Another sexist note to consider: Will reports “women are always getting lost!” Once more, a little boy is even judged superior to his female counter-parts.  Oy.

Despite these antique attitudes, Lost in Space remains intriguing because of the visualizations, and the production design.  This episode features the first use of the rocket pack (a gimmick later used on Ark II [1976]), a visit to an alien tomb, and several close-up peeks at hard Earth "tech," including the weather station, the force-field generator, and yes, the aforementioned laundry machine. 

I am not sure why this big, clunky "space pioneer" gear appeals to me so much, and on such a basic level...but I just can't get enough of these live-action props (the kind you see at the Robinson homestead).  At this point, I would say that the production values of Lost in Space far outstrip those of Star Trek (1966 - 1968). The narratives and characters, of course, are a different story.

Finally, this episode features Will singing Green Sleeves at a camp site: