Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Valley of the Dinosaurs: "After Shock" (October 26, 1974)

In “After Shock,” Gorak detects a change in the air pressure. The Butlers dismiss his sense that something has changed, but an earthquake ravages the valley, validating his feeling. 

Now, a rock with a human face, atop a hill by a nearby lake, is shattered.  Gorak knows from his forefathers that the destruction of this rock means that the water in the lake is sour and must not be consumed.  

Gorak reports that only by lifting a new rock face to the top of the hill will the water be made fresh again.

The Butlers are suspicious of such primitive superstition, but help Gorok complete this mission.  At a nearby quarry is another statue with a human face on it; one that must be transported to the perch by the lake.  The Butlers build a wagon to transport the stone idol, and build a pulley system to lift it.

The only problem is that an angry Dimetrodon is nearby.

When the rock is lifted into position, however, the water is fixed and made pure again, because a nearby geyser cannot leak Sulphur and other toxic chemicals into it.  

The Butlers apologize to Gorak for not fully believing his story and accepting his traditions.

“After Shock” is a bit more interesting, in terms of its narrative, than are some episodes of Valley of the Dinosaurs (1974).  In part, this is because it raises questions about Gorok’s people and their history in the Valley.

Who carved the statue with the human face on it?  

Who carved the rock with the human face on it that is embedded in the mountain side?  

And when did Gorak’s people first hit upon the solution of using these odd rocks to cap-off a geyser and preserve reservoir water?  

Does some ancient civilization pre-date Gorak’s?  Were his people taught by someone else?

Those questions are intriguing, and suggest a long past for Gorak’s people.  Just as fascinating, I find, is the relationship between the Butlers and the prehistoric family in this episode. 

Here, the Butlers are a bit dismissive of Gorak’s beliefs, but come to realize that there are real reasons behind his “superstitions.”  

They ultimately apologize, and realize that sometimes it is better to accept Gorak’s word and customs, than try to out-think them, using their modern science.

Still, it is science that makes the transportation of the rock possible.  The wagon moves the stone statue from the mountain to the lake, and the pulley raises it to the summit.  

One wonders how Gorak’s people managed this feat in the past, without the help of a modern family such as the Butlers...

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Secrets of Isis: "Now You Don't" (October 23, 1976)

In “Now You Don’t,” the stolen weather machine is still missing, and in the hands of criminals.  

The criminals, however, don’t know how to use it properly, and plan to capture its creator, Rick Mason (Brian Cutler), to help

Meanwhile the three “Super-Sleuths – Ranji (himself), Feather (Craig Wasson) and C.J. (Evan Kim) attempt to draw the crooks out.

Also on the case are Captain Marvel (John Davey) and Isis (Joanna Cameron)... 

“Now You Don’t is the final episode of The Secrets of Isis (1975-1976), and like last week’s show, it feels more like a bid for a new Super Sleuth series than a story involving Mrs. Thomas and Isis.  

That’s a bit of a disappointment, given the fact that we don’t get to see Isis again.

Captain Marvel is also present in this story, making the half-hour relatively crowded.  At the very least, "Now You Don't" is fast-moving, and full of energy.  

And, like “Now You See It,” the episode seems a little more serious and substantive than the run-of-the-mill Isis programs. For once, we aren’t in a world where some prejudiced/angry/isolated teen must be taught a lesson about tolerance.

Gazing across the breadth of the Isis catalog, it’s clear that the show’s real strength is not its storytelling, but Joanna Cameron’s centered performances, which anchor the material and provide the series a degree of dignity.  Her performances are typically restrained, and lacking in histrionics, and that’s good.  Isis (and Mrs. Thomas too…) is a person children can look up to.

Unfortunately, the whole Rick Mason/Lois Lane and Cindy Lee or Rennie/Jimmy Olsen supporting cast aspect of the series makes certain that Secrets of Isis is never much more than an Adventures of Superman knock-off.

Next week: We begin Sid and Marty Krofft's Electra Woman and Dyna Girl.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jurassic Park Week: Jurassic Park III (2001)

Jurassic Park III (2001) is another step-down in quality for what should have been a durable movie franchise. 

Although Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) featured a troublesome script and some considerable third-act problems, Jurassic Park III pales in comparison even to that sequel. 

In large part, this is because the action scenes featured here don’t seem to escalate or build in any substantive fashion, and because the script – about a rescue mission on Isla Sorna – is distinctly minor league. 

On top of all that, the film features a mawkish sub-plot about a splintered family coming back together over the threats of imminent death-by-dino. About the only arena where the film truly works, and works well (at least from time to time) is in the depiction of the dinosaurs, particularly the upgraded look of the awesome Velociraptors.

Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer [1991], The Wolfman [2010], Captain America [2011]) takes over the directing reins from Steven Spielberg for Jurassic Park III, and it’s not a pretty sight.  

The third film is choppy and episodic instead of grand and spectacular, and even some should-be-great moments such as the franchise’s first glimpse of an Anklyosaurus are presented in half-hearted fashion, in the equivalent of a cutaway or insert shot.  The film ends after only a scant 82 minutes, but even at that short length Jurassic Park III feels over-long because the movie is essentially a plot-less runaround, featuring no significant or meaningful narrative. 

Yesterday, I wrote about The Lost World as a dip or fall from greatness. Jurassic Park III is a plunge from greatness, and precipitous one at that.  I enjoy any fantasy film that features wondrous dinosaurs in action, however, and I can’t deny that Jurassic Park III is entertaining and often amusing, but today it just feels like small potatoes in comparison to the other series entries.  

Accordingly, Jurassic Park III is the franchise’s Son of Kong:  a fun film to revisit on occasion, but really only a shadow of the original.

“This is how you make dinosaurs?

The Kirbys (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) recruit Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his apprentice, Billy (Alessandro Nivola) to act as tour guides for a fly-by of Isla Sorna, Jurassic Park’s Site B.  Grant only reluctantly agrees, having lost both the love of his life, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and his love of dinosaurs. He's now a man without "faith."

Against Dr. Grant’s wishes, the Kirbys’ plane sets down on the dinosaur island, and Grant learns the truth about the flight.  The Kirby’s young son, Eric (Trevor Morgan) went down on the island eight weeks earlier during a para-gliding accident, and they are attempting to rescue him.  While the group searches for young Eric, it must also contend with a giant Spinosaurus that is hunting them. 

Even worse, Billy has stolen two Velociraptor eggs, and the dangerous pack-hunters want them back…

“Reverse Darwinism - survival of the most idiotic…”

The film that Jurassic Park III hopes to be is actually one of interest.  

It’s the story of Dr. Alan Grant’s loss of faith.  

Dr. Sattler has married another man, and had a child with him.  

And the realities of Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna have totally changed how Grant views the profession of paleontology.  

His whole world has been turned upside down, and he has forgotten how to gaze at it with a sense of wonder.  

Upon seeing the dinosaurs again for the first time, Grant admits “My God, I’d forgotten…” and it’s a nice character moment.  As usual, Sam Neill is terrific in this film, finding every scrap of good material in the lackluster script and augmenting it through his interpretation of the prickly Grant.

Unfortunately, Dr. Grant’s loss of faith is not at the center of the action.  Instead, we waste time with cartoon character, comedy-relief mercenaries who may as well have the words “dinosaur fodder” stamped on their heads.  They belong in another reality, not the hard-earned reality of the Jurassic Park franchise.  

And when the screaming, dopey mercenaries are gone, the movie seeks relentlessly to hammer home the Kirby reconciliation sub-plot, which is handled with extreme schmaltz and sentimentality.  

The Jurassic Park movies have always mixed dinosaurs and families (and kids), but Jurassic Park III wants to consider this “walk in the park” some kind of family psychotherapy, with each Kirby realizing how much they love the others.  After awhile, the loving gazes and heartfelt stares are just a little too much to bear.  If the subplot were handled with a greater degree of humor or subtlety, it might be tolerable, but the sentimentality factor is through the roof.

Even worse, what seems absent from Jurassic Park III is Steven Spielberg’s impressive capacity to transform an action "moment" into something truly epic, an example of multiplying chaos and tension.  

There are plenty of action scenes here to be certain, but they begin without lead up or pre-amble, rumble along quickly, and end before they make a real impression.  

The battle between the Spinosaurus and the T-Rex is one prime example.  It goes by so quickly that it almost feels like a throwaway.  I should hasten to add, complex action scenes with dinosaurs are the reason we go to see these movies.  

Spielberg understood that fact, and in even in The Lost World was able to construct a colossal amount of tension around a scene with a trailer hanging off a precipice.  He was patient and thorough, making us experience each agonizing, chaotic moment.  The action scenes in Jurassic Park III are veritable drive-bys in comparison.

I also must confess that, on a purely personal level, I didn’t appreciate this film’s treatment of the T-Rex. The noble T-Rex saved the day at the climax of Jurassic Park, combating two vicious Velicoraptors and essentially saving the humans.  The mighty T-Rex took center stage and held it magnificently (remember the fluttering banner “When Dinosaurs ruled the Earth?”)  

Then, The Lost World revealed to us that T-Rexs make good parents, and again, there was a sense of sympathy built up for the dinosaur. Like a lion, the T-Rex was the regal king of the jungle 

Well, in Jurassic Park III a T-Rex gets bloodied and killed by the Spinosaurus in a matter of seconds and it seems rather…ignoble.  

I understand that the Spinosaurus is the Big Bad this time around, but it just feels like a cheap shot to treat the T-Rex so shabbily.  Had it put up a more sustained fight, or allowed the human heroes to escape, I might feel differently. 

Is it crazy to feel kinship for a tyrannosaur?  Perhaps so, but that's also what the JP movies are about: making audiences understand (and yes, love...) the dinosaurs.  We don't ever really know enough about the Spinosaurus or its habits (how it sees, for instance...) to identify with it, hate it or love it. It's just a monster chasing the heroes.

By contrast, the Velociraptors – now sporting colorful stripes and small head fathers – are handled very well here.  

Our “dino lesson” in this installment involves the fact that raptors were “socially sophisticated” and could vocalize and communicate with each other.  Grant informs us that Raptors were smarter than whales, dolphins or primates, and could have very well ruled the Earth if not for the asteroid that rendered them extinct. 

 I love that idea, and I love how the Raptors are portrayed in all three films.  

That said, JPIII reveals their softer side. They have an opportunity, after recovering their eggs, to kill the human intruders, but don’t take it.  That feels a little anticlimactic, especially since U.S. Marines are about to arrive.  I realize budget must have been a factor here, but imagine a pitched battle between a Velociraptor pack and the Marines…

The pterodactyls are another high point in this sequel  They look absolutely amazing (even more-than-decade after the film was made), and their presence, unlike that of the Ankylosaurs, is well-integrated into the action.  The best action scene in the film involves the Pterodactyls and the giant bird cage aviary where they make a home.

For so many reasons, Jurassic Park III feels like it suffers from sequel-itis.  

The characters are not particularly interesting, and frequently disposable.  

The movie is really short, as though the makers couldn’t be bothered to give us our money’s worth. The Lost World clocked in at two hours and nine minutes.  This one, as I said above, barely gets above eighty minutes.  

And by and large the action of the film feels rushed and choppy. I am an absolute sucker for the dinosaur action as featured in all three JP movies, but this one just feels like it is phoning in the all-important sense of wonder.  The few lines that re-hash the "Playing God" aspect of the film feel old and tired, too.  

We get it.

After three films, we’ve seen enough kids outsmarting dinosaurs to last us a lifetime. Instead let’s hope Jurassic World is a mean, violent, hard-nosed action-packed installment, and one that restores the original’s wicked humor, but also Jurassic Park's Darwinian sensibilities about survival. 

Let's hope the new sequel goes for hard science and hard action instead of hard schmaltz, the path of this 2001 film.

Movie Trailer: Jurassic Park III (2001)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Late Night Blogging: Jurassic Park Games Commercials

Tribute: Sir Christopher Lee (1922 - 2015)

The press is now reporting the passing of a silver screen icon. 

Sir Christopher Lee has died.

Regal, imposing, charming, noble, even menacing...all these words describe this great, beloved talent.

In his extraordinary, long-lasting career as an actor Mr. Lee played virtually every notable monster or villain imaginable. 

He starred as Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu in four movies, circa 1966-1969. 

And, most memorably, he was Hammer's Dracula in a variety of films from 1958 to 1973, including Horror of Dracula (1958), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Scars of Dracula (1970), Dracula AD 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).

Sir Christopher Lee was also Kharis in The Mummy (1959), and a James Bond villain, Scaramanga, in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).  

One of Lee's most memorable roles also arrived in the seventies: Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1972).

Christopher Lee's Dracula is, perhaps, my favorite of them all. 

There is something incredibly feral and animalistic about his wide-eyed, dripping-fang interpretation of Bram Stoker's character.

If Bela Lugosi made the Count a charming and romantic foreigner, Lee's interpretation transformed him into something different; something simultaneously less-than and more-than human. He was a physically-intimidating, Dracula, a legitimately fearful, nightmarish presence.

Such was the power of Lee's performances as Dracula that the those who grew up with him in that role continued to cast him in important roles, decades later, when they became filmmakers.

Fore example, Lee is remembered by the younger generation for his many performances as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, as well as Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels. 

But such was Sir Christopher Lee's unshakable talent that he was also willing to send up his menacing performances -- quite adroitly -- to vet comedy material.  He was a great mad scientist, and dead-pan straight man, for example in Gremlins 2 (1990). 

Lee's career also included many television roles.  

He made an early guest appearance in the third season of the paranormal horror anthology, One Step Beyond (1959-1961) in the episode "The Sorcerer."  

He also memorably played a friendly alien in "Earthbound," an early episode of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Space: 1999 (1975 -1977).

For me, Christopher Lee was -- and always shall remain -- a cherished royal figure in genre cinema, the grandfather of a whole generation of horror and science fiction art.  

Lee is most famous for playing a character "undead," but in his more than fifty years of memorable genre performances Christopher Lee has achieved true immortality.  We will continue watching him, for years to come, and introducing his work to our children.

Rest in Peace.

Jurassic Park Week: The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2 (1997)

Each time I pen a review of a sequel that doesn’t quite measure up to the original film, I am reminded of the late critic Roger Ebert’s brilliant opening line from his review of Halloween II (1981): “It’s a little sad to witness a fall from greatness.”

And a fall from greatness is exactly what we witness in the 1997 cinematic sequel to Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Fortunately for audiences and fans of the franchise, it’s not a colossal drop.  

Rather, this first sequel dips from the realm of “classic” (like the original) to merely “good.”  Bottom line: it could have been worse, perhaps even a lot worse. 

Although marred by a final act that seems utterly disconnected from the body of the film proper, The Lost World remains enormously entertaining.  

The film plays like a tense roller-coaster ride and one crafted with uncommon technical skill to boot.  In particular, an incredibly complex, nail-biting set-piece involving a double trailer on a precipice – in a rain storm, no less – reveals Steven Spielberg’s killer instinct and directorial legerdemain. 

Perhaps the most significant difference between Jurassic Park and its sequel is that The Lost World feels a whole lot, well, meaner.  

While some fans and critics may consider this shift in tone lamentable, there was probably little choice. You can only play the “wonder” card once, and Jurassic Park did so superbly. Now the franchise gets down to some brutal, bloody business…

Technically astounding, and with protagonists constantly in “the company of death,” The Lost World represents an above-average sequel to Jurassic Park, but in both coloration and thematic tenor, the film feels very dark and even devoid of joy.   There’s nothing wrong with existing on that plateau, but after watching this film you feel more throttled than you do enthralled.

And while beautifully rendered, the final image of the film -- a fantasy-land of diverse dinosaurs dwelling together in peace within a literal stones-throw of one another -- feels piped in from another franchise all together.  

Given what we know of man, and particularly of man as depicted in the film itself, there’s no reason to believe a paradise like this would be permitted to thrive. 

Even worse, given what we’ve seen of the dinosaurs, there’s no reason to believe they would inhabit this world either, living peaceably in such close proximity to one another.

“Our last chance at redemption…”

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) summons mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to his home to inform him of some startling news. A Jurassic Park “Site B” exists on an island eighty miles south of Isla Nublar, called Isla Sorna. There, dinosaurs have lived in isolation for four years.  In fact, they are thriving.

However, all that is about to change. The new head of InGen, Hammond’s nephew, Ludlow (Howard) believes that the way to raise his company out of bankruptcy is to exploit the dinosaurs.  Specifically, his plan is to capture the dinosaurs at Site B and bring them back to San Diego as a stadium attraction.

Having learned from his own unique mistakes regarding the dinosaurs, Hammond understands the folly of this course, and believes that the dinosaurs should be left alone to live in peace without the specter of human interference.  But to rally the public to support his cause, he has sent paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) to the island to document life on Isla Sorna. 

Because Sarah is his girlfriend, Ian heads to the island on a rescue mission, along with videographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) and tech-guy Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff).  They are joined by a stowaway, Ian’s daughter, Cathy (Beller).

In short order, a squad of hunters arrive on the island too, and commence a vicious dinosaur safari at Ludlow’s behest.  When one of the hunters, Roland Tembo (Peter Postlethwaite) captures a T-Rex infant, it’s worried parents come looking for it, and the dance of death begins anew…

“An extinct animal come back to life has no rights…we made it…we own it.”

Along with director Spielberg, David Koepp returned to scripting duties for this sequel, The Lost World.  Accordingly, the film feels like a legitimate continuation of the first film, right down to the feisty, occasionally corny or schmaltzy sense of humor. 

In terms of narrative depth, however, The Lost World offers something a lot scarier than science run amok, the chosen terrain of the first film.  In short, the follow-up concerns capitalism or big business run amok, and in that regard is indeed frightening.  

Specifically, the film revives the axiom that the free market becomes ethical only when the cost of unethical behavior becomes too great a cost for the market to bear.  Here, Ludlow has no time for ethics until he is on the line for murder and property damage. And even then, he’s still trying to figure out a way to make money…  

Another way to parse the difference between first and second film in the JP series: If Jurassic Park concerned the wonder of dinosaurs brought to life via the auspices of science then The Lost World dramatizes the crass, inhuman exploitation of these DNA-created animals…for profit.  

In fact, all of The Lost World is suffused -- at least thematically -- with a tremendous sense of…responsibility. 

Because modern, technological man created the dinosaurs of Isla Sorna in the first place, the argument goes that man is responsible for what ultimately happens to them, and must treat them with respect and dignity.  

We see this idea reinforced and mirrored throughout the film, in both a subplot about reluctant, absentee father Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and his daughter, Cathy (Camilla Beller), and even in the story involving parent Tyrannosaurs and their infant offspring.

Warm-blooded or cold-blooded, we all struggle to be good parents, and preserve the future for our children. We can’t abandon our children, or we risk turning them into monsters.

Given this leitmotif, the film’s villains come under the camp of vulture capitalists like Hammond’s nephew, Ludlow (Arliss Howard) and irresponsible, merciless hunter, Dieter (Peter Stormare), a man who views every new dinosaur as a thing to bully, hurt, or beat down.     

Metaphorically bad parents, Ludlow and Dieter are concerned only how they can “strip mine” the island for profit, or for personal gratification.  It’s one thing to create new life, to play Frankenstein, but The Lost World travels further down the road and asks, how does Frankenstein treat his monster once it is here, for good? 

With humanity and grace?  Or as something to be controlled and used up?

The downside of this storytelling approach is plain.  

John Hammond was certainly misguided in Jurassic Park, but not a villain or a terrible person.  But The Lost World requires old-fashioned, mustache-twirling human villains to maintain its momentum, and they aren’t exactly portrayed in three-dimensional terms. 

The up-side of featuring such cruel, villainous human antagonists, however, is that audience members experience a vicarious sense of justice meted out when the dinosaurs strike back and kill them.  

Ludlow’s fate – to be the plaything of a T-Rex child just learning to hunt – is absolutely “just” given his cavalier treatment of the dinosaurs.  He believes that because his company created them, he “owns” them.  

In the end – at least before he gets ripped apart – Ludlow gets to experience what it feels like to be owned by someone else. 

And Dieter, after bullying tiny dinosaurs with a cattle prod, learns there is strength in numbers when the diminutive lizards team up to overwhelm him.

In terms of the “sequel effect,” The Lost World features more gadgetry, more guns, more victims and more leaping lizards than its processor did, so it’s carnage candy galore. Even better, Spielberg seems to be in a nastier mood than usual and dispenses with his characteristic sense of sentimentality.  The film’s opening sequence reveals dinosaurs surrounding and attacking a cute-as-a-button little girl, for instance.  Later, one of the film’s most likable characters, Eddie, gets viciously ripped apart by two angry Tyrannosaurs.  And this comes after after working his ass off to save Malcolm, Sarah and Van Owen.

Overall, the impression is that this sequel absolutely means business, and isn’t pulling any punches.  So obsessed is Spielberg, it seems, with the film’s action, that he stages an impressive (but also strangely obsessive…) action scene set in a trailer dangling over a high-cliff.  

This scene builds and builds, layering on new elements and becoming ever more intense, as if Spielberg is testing the limits of audience endurance, and also his ability to play us like a piano. 

And…I like it. I like a "meaner," Spielberg, one relying on his chops and sense of visual classicism.

At one point during the scene, Sarah falls directly towards Spielberg’s camera through the body of a vertically-tilted trailer, and her body strikes a glass barrier, a window.  Soon, tiny cracks in the glass begin to spread and multiply, line by line, and the progression of the shattering glass -- perhaps better than anything we saw in Jurassic Park -- hints at the true nature of Ian’s Chaos Theory.  Incident piles upon incident, action upon action, effect upon effect, with surprising results.  Pretty soon, we’re putty in Spielberg’s hands, swept up by the progression of terror.

Again, this scene is gloriously nail-biting, and literally the last word in cliffhanging action.  Through cross-cutting, fast-cuts and an unmatched sense of visual placement and geography, Spielberg transforms what might have been a short or perfunctory  moment into an extended dance with terror as man grapples with nature, technology and monsters too.  I’d give this sequence the nod as the best (and most technically complicated…) action sequence in the entire JP trilogy.

Another great scene in the film involves Velociraptors lurking in tall grass, waiting to strike a group of human passersby.  

Spielberg’s camera adopts an extreme high-angle, so we see only Velociraptor paths – like contrails -- moving stealthily through the grass on a trajectory towards the unlucky human pedestrians.  

And then the dinosaurs strike and Spielberg cannily shifts to eye level with the top of the high grass, so it looks as though the men are being pulled beneath the surface of a roiling sea.  In some ways, it’s the Jaws approach all over again, but once more, I must repeat that I really like Spielberg when he’s in “mean” mode.  When we wants to, this director can match Hitchcock or De Palma shot-for-shot in terms of visual aplomb and wicked gallows humors.  As a viewer and critic, I appreciate it when Spielberg indulges that not-often seen side of his personality.

The last act of The Lost World is the one that, as a critic, I have trouble with.  The tyrannosaurus looks small and inconsequential compared to the gas stations, high-rise skyscrapers and suburbs of San Diego, and so the final urban scenes don’t quite work as they should. 

Furthermore, Nick Van Owen – the daring “Earth First” crusader of the film – disappears completely from this final act.  

Wouldn’t he have agreed to help Ian and Sarah recover the infant T-Rex?  Nick’s total disappearance makes the ending feel tacked on after the fact, like it was a second thought, or the result of a focus-group preference. 

And finally, after the T-Rex rampage in San Diego, The Lost World culminates with that fairy tale shot.  

Now quarantined from the human world, the dinosaurs of Isla Sorna become literally one happy family.  By showcasing all the dinosaurs (T-Rex, Stegosaurus and Pterodactyl) within one frame (during a pan, left to right), the impression is of a Kumbaya paradise that, simply put, could never be.  It’s an unwelcome return to Steven Spielberg in his most sentimental, schmaltzy mode. 

Make no mistake, the valedictory shot of The Lost World is absolutely gorgeous and brilliantly rendered, but would carnivores and vegetarians really mill about peaceably together for a Sunday afternoon in the park?  

Not likely…

I know a lot of critics hated The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  I’m not one of them.  In Horror Films of the 1990s I rated it 3 stars out of 4, and I stick by that assessment.  

The film entertains…almost relentlessly, and there is a subtext here about protecting the lives we bring into the world, through science or nature. The grueling, edge-of-your set action scenes work like gangbusters as well.  

But the script takes a few wrong turns in the end, and closes on a note of such utter fantasy, that you’re left, finally, with a sense that you have witnessed, if not a fall from greatness, then at least a small stumble from the path of greatness.

Movie Trailer: The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2 (1997)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Late Night Blogging: Jurassic Park: The Ride

Jurassic Park Week: Toy Commercials (Kenner)

Jurassic Park: Kenner Toys!

Jurassic Park GAF Viewmaster

Jurassic Park Colorforms

Model Kit of the Week: Jurassic Park (Lindberg Edition)

Trading Card of the Week: Jurassic Park (1993; Topps)

Board Game of the Week: Jurassic Park (1993; Milton Bradley)

Lunch Box of the Week: Jurassic Park (1993)

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Jurassic Park Week: Late Night Blogging: Jurassic Park Burger King Commercials

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Space Trader" (March 9, 1966)

In “The Space Trader,” a merchant and “citizen of the galaxy” (Torin Thatcher) uses a weather-control device to totally destroy the Robinsons’ garden and food supply. Since they are now desperate for food, the space trader hopes they will trade with a disadvantage.

And what does this space trader want, in the final analysis?  A human being to trade at the Trade Fair on planet Thorin.

The Robinsons are stoic in the face of their loss, and resort to emergency rations.  But Dr. Smith refuses to settle for protein pills.  He trades the family robot for food, but Will threatens to never again be his friend.

To get the robot back and save his friendship with Will, Smith must offer himself to the Space Trader.  The space trader claims he will not collect on his debt for 200 years, but promptly changes his mind, and holds Smith to a contract.

When the Robinsons learn that the Space Trader was behind the storm that destroyed their food supply, they declare the contract null and avoid.   But the alien merchant and his vicious guard dogs still plan to collect…

The previous two episodes of Lost in Space -- “The Magic Mirror” and “The Challenge” -- have been pretty good. Perhaps even great, in terms of the series' totality.  

But “The Space Trader” is an over-familiar story: the tale of a charming but malevolent alien coming to the planet and trying to leave with one of the pioneers (for example, “The Keeper.”) 

Yet "The Space Trader" is not entirely unlikable. Torin Thatcher makes for a particularly slick and avaricious opponent for the Robinsons, and Dr. Smith -- for the first time ever -- seems to actually regret his anti-social behavior.

Still, this kind of story is not only familiar at this point (at almost the end of the first season), but one that will be repeated again and again as the show continues.  Like Gilligan’s Island, Lost in Space is sort of stuck with the idea that the only to create drama is for a visitor to come to the island/planet and threaten the residents.  Threatening the residents means -- in the case of Lost in Space -- splitting up the settlement.  Will and Penny were on the chopping block in "The Keeper."  It's Smith's turn here, in "The Space Trader."

Although “The Space Trader” moves at a good clip, and is not painful to watch (like some later episodes...), one can nonetheless begin to see format fatigue setting in.  Attention to detail is starting to slide.  

For example, in this episode, we see Dr. Smith dressed in the costume of a painter, and later, protected in a World War II helmet, and by a sand-bag structure.  Space on the Jupiter 2 has to be limited, so why was it carrying unnecessary gear, including (the heavy) sand-bags and an eighty year old helmet?  

Such items are present, I should note, for a dramatic purpose: to highlight and augment the buffoonery of Dr. Smith.  He goes all out, costumes and all, in his shenanigans.  On one hand, his penchant for costume changing might be considered funny, but on the other hand, it punctures a hole right through the series’ fragile sense of believability.

Another problem with Lost in Space, beginning here in some sense, is that the universe at large seems very recognizable, instead of legitimately alien.  The trader is going to a fair.  He makes Smith sign a contract. He keeps guard dogs.  He complains about income tax, even.  These are all things instantly recognizable to us, today, as being facets of Earth life and human civilization.   

Weird, isn't it, that alien society should reflect ours...exactly? 

At least in other installments ("My Friend, Mr. Nobody," "The Sky is Falling," "Wish Upon a Star," and "The Challenge,") the aliens don't seem precisely like us. There are important differences, and some sense of mystery about them.

In crafting such a basic, non-imaginative world around the Trader, Lost in Space reveals that it is not interested in being serious science fiction -- or even internally consistent. 

Now, back to Dr. Smith. 

Over the first season of Lost in Space, Smith changes quite a bit.  He begins as a ruthless villain, and on several occasions actually endeavors to get the Robinsons -- even the children -- killed. 

“The Space Trader” is the first episode in which he genuinely and meaningfully apologizes for bad behavior, and attempts to rectify the situation. Smith trades the family Robot for food to the Space Trader.  But then, Will tells him he will never be his friend again.  In the past, Smith would not care about such a thing.  Instead, he would do whatever he needs to do to get what he wants.  Here, however, he shows signs of humanity and real friendship towards Will.  Again, this is a huge shift in terms of the show.

Next week: "His Majesty Smith."