Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Dr. Shrinker (1976): "Pardon Me, King Kong"

Sid and Marty Krofft brought Saturday morning television some of its most memorable and unique programming in the 1970s.  Land of the Lost clearly stands at the top of that heap, but there are many others worth recalling, from ElectraWoman and DynaGirl (1976) to The Lost Saucer (1975) to this series, Dr. Shrinker (1976).

Like ElectraWoman and Dynagirl, Dr. Shrinker aired as a segment of the omnibus The Krofft Supershow for one season, and had a strong science fiction underpinnings.

In this case, the inspiration for the series seems to be the 1940 horror movie Dr. Cyclops.  There, Dr. Thorkel (Albert Dekker) lured three scientists to his jungle laboratory and miniaturized them. They then were endangered not just by the doctor, but the now colossal-seeming wild-life of the terrain.

Similarly, Dr. Shrinker tells the story of three young adults -- Brad (Ted Eccles), Gordy (Jeff Mackay) and B.J. (Susan Lawrence) -- who crash their plane on the island of a mad scientist, Dr. Shrinker (Jay Robinson) and his minion, Hugo (Billy Barty). He promptly miniaturizes them, and they escape from his laboratory, into the jungle biome.  There, they battle snakes, rats, and other wild-life.

Each week on the series, Shrinker and Hugo also concoct some plan to re-capture the “Shrinkies,” as they are known.  His shrink ray weapon often re-appears in the series too, and often breaks down too.  The Shrinkies hope to use it to be restored to normal.

In terms of visualization, Dr.Shrinker employs the same chroma-key techniques adopted by Land of the Lost. Actors are often matted onto backgrounds which pair them with colossal creatures, in this case the aforementioned wild-life.

Dr. Shrinker, uniquely, appears to have been ripped off to some degree for Hanna Barbera’s Mystery Island, which I reviewed here not long ago.

There, another plane crashes on a mysterious island, and three youngsters (two male; two female, and a brother/sister duo) are confronted by a mad scientist, in this case “Dr. Strange.”  In both series, the villains have minions, and in both cases, the game is always one of capture and escape. 

In the Dr. Shrinker episode “Pardon Me, King Kong,” Dr. Shrinker and Hugo call on Boris the Chimp to help them capture the Shrinkies.  Like Kong, Boris takes a liking to a golden haired girl, B.J. and captures her.  Shrinker then holds her captive in a cage in his laboratory, using her as bait.

Sure enough, Brad and Gordy soon arrive at his home, and use a fishing hook and line to climb up a chair and reach her.  They too are captured, but manage to escape before the episode is done.

A few things to note: King Kong (1976), obviously, was a major pop culture event of 1976, and so Dr. Shrinker attempts to exploit that here, in some sense, putting a regular sized chimp up against miniaturized humans. 

Secondly, the “Shrinkies” are not yet very well-defined or developed, but B.J. comes off as down-right cruel in her scenes with Brad and especially to her brother, Gordy.  She is a mean and unpleasant character, which is surprising given that she is one of the series' heroes. 

Finally, the best scenes in this episode belong to Jay Robinson and Bill Barty, who chew the scenery together like nobody’s business.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Lost Saucer: "894X2RY713, I Love You," (September 6, 1975)

Following the amazing success of Land of the Lost (1974 – 1977), Sid and Marty Krofft created another Saturday morning live-action series: The Lost Saucer (1975). 

This series aired on ABC Saturday mornings for a season (and then as an element in the Krofft Supershow)  and was part Doctor Who (1963 – 1989), part Star Trek (1966 – 1969), and part Lost in Space (1965 – 1968), with some comedic shtick thrown in for good measure.

The Lost Saucer is the story of normal 1970s kids Jerry (Jarrod Johnson) and his babysitter, Alice (Alice Playten). 

One night, they are visited by a flying saucer, and whisked away on an adventure. Aboard the highly-advanced craft are two androids, Fi (Ruth Buzzi) and Fum (Jim Nabors). These friendly androids hail from the planet ZR-3 in the year 2369, and reveal that their ship not only travels through space, but across time as well.

Alice and Jerry also meet Fi and Fum’s other ship-mate, “The Dorse” (Larry Larsen), a “bio-genetically engineered” creature with the head of a horse and the body of a shaggy dog.

On their first interplanetary journey, Fi and Fum experience difficulties.  The time vortex is accidentally opened, and the “Year-o-meter” is broken, sending the ship to some distant, far off time. 

Alice and Jerry just want to return home, but instead, they are forced to reckon with one cosmic and temporal adventure after another.

You can see the genre antecedents or inspirations immediately in this format.  

We have the lost travelers trying to get home, similar to some extent, to the crew of the Jupiter 2.  

We have advanced time travelers stealing away “companions” and then having difficulty returning them to the right epoch.  And the saucer’s main control column and control room lay-out, even, in some sense, seems to resemble the TARDIS.

And from Star Trek, The Lost Saucer takes a sense of social commentary. Even though this is a silly, slapstick Saturday morning series, each episode tries to convey some imaginative and culturally relevant point. The stories, for all their goofiness -- like the notorious Chickephant episodes -- ape the Gulliver’s Travels aspect of Trek; that each new culture is actually a commentary on our own.

The series pilot, “894X2RY713, I Love You,” is a case in point. 

In this story, the saucer is hurled into the distant future. 

While Fi and Fum attempt to repair the saucer, Alice and Jerry go out to explore a fabulous metropolis and find that all the human inhabitants are covered in masks and thick suits, and go by numbers, not names.   

Indeed, the Earth kids are promptly arrested by police for being in public with no numbers, and held for trial.  Their judge is a giant, movable computer with no face, and no mercy either.

Jerry and Alice attempt to explain that where they come from, people have names, not numbers. Their captors reply that without a number, the “government” can’t “keep track” of people.

The fear expressed here, clearly (in the immediate post-Watergate, post-Vietnam Era) is of the State becoming a dehumanizing influence, one that fails to acknowledge the individuality and humanity of its citizens.

After Fi and Fum rescue Alice and Jerry (using “air-jets”), Fum reflects that it is truly awful “when numbers become more important than people.”  That may sound like an on-the-nose “lesson,” but it goes by quickly, and the episode’s visuals convey the story effectively.  The sets and costumes are inventive, and it is fascinating to imagine a world in which you can’t show your face, or identify someone by name. 

Everyone must be the same and treated the same, or the State intervenes. It’s heady stuff for a Saturday morning series. It's relevant to today's context too, strangely enough. We live in a world of death by drones, government surveillance, and so on, so the idea of the State controlling many aspects of life still resonates.

Of course, there’s also the “shticky” aspect of the series.  Fi and Fum are comic characters through-and-through.  They say things like “watch your tape deck” instead of “watch your mouth,” and are generally clowns. They bumble their way through the adventure, and yet are also depicted as happy, positive figures in the drama.  They make mistakes, but they’re good-hearted.  The Lost Saucer arises from a time when heroes and other characters didn’t all have to be broken, broody and angsty. They could just be…goofy.

In terminology and technology, The Lost Saucer has certainly aged a great deal in forty years. Fi and Fum spew paper print-outs for example, and discuss the aforementioned tape decks. But the production values, at least for this episode, are pretty good given the time and the limited budget. 

This episode features a clutch of alien costumes, the judge robot, bubble cars, a future city miniature, and other nice touches.  One chase uses rear-projection, and so on.

The Lost Saucer is not officially available in any format at present, though you can find this episode on YouTube.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Found Footage Friday: The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

[As always, beware of spoilers.]

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference in terms of found-footage horror movies.

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) seems to understand this fact, and tweaks the familiar formula just enough to make the low-budget horror film seem fresh for much of its running time. 

While it is true that the movie runs out of steam a bit in its third act, the film’s set-up is rock solid, and the movie is buttressed by a strong lead performance from Jill Larson. She creates in Deborah Logan a dignified, private individual that you come to truly care for. It actually hurts at times to watch Deborah’s physical and mental degeneration.

And though the movie concerns possession and Satanic rites, the underlying allegory here is about something else, something very real and very disturbing: the way that disease takes our loved ones away from us, a dramatic, monstrous piece at a time.

Indeed, the twists that elevate The Taking of Deborah Logan involve the story’s premise -- the recording of the daily life of an Alzheimer’s patient and her care-giver for two months -- and the unexpectedly realistic behavior of one memorable supporting character: Gavin (Brett Gentile).

On the former front, our main characters are not fame-seeking wannabes (as is the case in many found footage films), but rather a sympathetic student, and the family member of a very sick woman.

And on the latter front, a key character realizes what is really happening to Deborah, and cuts bait before he dies a horrible death. In one of the film’s most inspired moments, Gavin leaves the group recording Deborah’s experiences.


He drives away in a car, never to return, and we -- the audience -- for once have a legitimate surrogate.

An evil spirit possessing an old woman in a big, abandoned farmhouse, and communicating through an old switchboard machine? 

I would be out of there in a flash, just like Gavin. 

Hit the gas pedal and burn rubber...

The Taking of Deborah Logan features a strong first act too, because it diagrams exactly the steps Deborah will go through as Alzheimer’s progressively ravages her mind. The straight-faced approach to her condition (replete with documentary-style infographics) makes the film feel all-too real. And though the movie dips in quality a bit leading up to the finale, the ending sequence, set in a dark, subterranean mill by a river, successfully evokes a genuine -- and choking -- sense of dread.

So I was impressed by this film (which is free on Netflix). The Taking of Deborah Logan feels like a legitimate genre discovery because it proceeds with intelligence and guts, and doesn’t shy away from the questions and emotions that much more deeply ground the film in reality.

“There are no small tasks for Alzheimer’s patients.”

A graduate student named Mia (Michelle Ang) and her camera crew prepare to spend two months with Deborah Logan (Larson), an Alzheimer’s patient, and her caregiver, her daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsey).

The subject of their film is the physiological pressure that the disease can create not just in the sufferer, but in those who take care of the patient over a long duration.

Deborah is resistant at first, because she is a “very private person” and doesn’t want to be the butt of a joke. When Sarah convinces her that Mia’s intentions are educational, she acquiesces.

At first, Mia and her camera crew, including Gavin (Gentile) record normal interviews with Deborah. 

The film crew learns that her husband died very early in their marriage, and she was left to take care of young Sarah by herself.

She did so, by running a telephone switchboard service for local professionals: doctors, lawyers and the like.

Soon, however, Gavin’s cameras begin to capture the fact that Deborah’s artwork has turned inexplicably dark, showcasing a looming figure in her garden, one lurking ever closer to the house’s windows.

Worse, Deborah experiences several night terrors in which she goes to the attic and operates the old switchboard machinery on the precise channel of a client long believed to be dead.

The sounds from the machine are analyzed, and strange, inhuman voices are detected.

Deborah also develops a strange rash on her back…like snake scales, and seems to be progressively losing touch with reality.

Mia and Sarah investigate the switchboard and learn more about the mysterious channel and the strange person who once made calls on it. 

The history of this individual involves a local mass murder, and an old mill in the woods…

“I don’t think I’m the candidate for you.”

The Taking of Deborah Logan spends a good deal of running time exploring the effects of Alzheimer’s, and showcasing Deborah’s degradation, over time. For example, she begins to lose the capacity for organized thinking, and we see her several times stop in the middle of a seemingly mundane task, unable to motivate herself or collect her thoughts. 

These moments are heart-breaking, and Jill Larson is so sympathetic and effective in this role. One gets the impression that Deborah is a kind of regal, private woman, but not particularly open or affectionate. Suddenly, her whole life is on a platter -- for all to see -- and she must reckon with behavior that even she acknowledges is odd, or at least abnormal.

The film also reveals, in horrifying dimensions, how Alzheimer’s patients typically end up. One shot of a dying patient in the hospital is real nightmare fodder in a real world sense.  The poor soul is contorted, her face locked in an expression of abject agony.

This is not a way anyone would want to die.  Or could imagine dying.

As the movie moves into more fantastic territory, involving a Satanic ritual that grants a petitioner immortality, the film sacrifices some of its hard-earned verisimilitude, but not enough to preclude your continued interest.  By that point, you feel invested in Deborah, and also in Sarah, her refreshingly candid and open daughter.

The film’s lowest ebb comes in the scenes involving the local crimes, and the gentleman who was behind them. It all feels a little pat, a little too concrete.  The Taking of Deborah Logan works best in terms of its ambiguity, when the audience isn’t certain if Deborah is just losing her mind, or becoming impacted by an evil presence.  All the stuff about devil worship and the doctor who practiced it is stuff you’ve seen before, and distinctly ‘meh’ in presentation.

Yet several moments in the first few acts are downright scary, and marked by jump-out-of-your seat scares of the highest impact. One scene involves Gavin’s discovery of Deborah’s art-work by an open window…during impenetrable night.  Another genuinely terrifying moment involves a sojourn into the dark attic, to that switchboard machine of the damned.

The scenes set at a hospital -- which involve the kidnapping of a virgin child -- are not nearly as compelling or interesting as anything that happens in the farmhouse, but the film’s climax is boosted by the Blair Witch-like setting and the visual approach.

Specifically, the film switches to night vision view as the survivors descend into a dirt-floored mill near a river bank, and seek to discover what Deborah has done with the missing child. There’s a genuine feel of claustrophobia and unpredictability about what happens in this nightmarish, effectively-shot location. But again, for some it may be a bit too fantastic in nature.

It’s entirely possible that The Taking of Deborah Logan could have focused less concretely on the Satanic/demonic angle and tread more fully in that realm of lingering uncertainty, where audiences couldn’t be certain which demon -- medical or literal -- was affecting a character of great dignity.

The film’s final sting, too, is pretty weak, and seems to undercut much of the intelligent debate about disease, and how it not only impacts those who suffer from it, but those around them too, who must not only see the disease progress, but lose their loved ones little by little, inch by inch.  It’s difficult to know who has a more torturous time here, Sarah -- who has real issues with her Mom, but nonetheless takes care of her -- or Deborah, who is smart enough to realize that she is slipping away.

The Taking of Deborah Logan is a smart horror film when it hews to these ideas and characters, but far less so when it focuses on the familiar mechanics of the genre: pyrotechnics, gore, and twisty-gimmicky endings. Deborah’s final, bizarre transformation is one that is entirely unnecessary in a film that has created such a rich, scary atmosphere.

Still, for the first hour or so of The Taking of Deborah Logan, you’ll be convinced you’ve walked into a latter-day found-footage masterpiece. So much so that the film has enough momentum, even considering its third act, to keep you entertained, and more than that, riveted to the screen.

Movie Trailer: The Taking of Deborah Logan (2015)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Films of 1984: 2010: The Year We Make Contact

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is absolutely, indisputably a one-of-a-kind movie.  It is a cinematic masterpiece, and more than that, one of the greatest films ever produced.  

So the simple and apparent fact that must be acknowledged and embraced regarding the Peter Hyams sequel -- 1984’s 2010: The Year We Make Contact -- is that it is not in the same class.

Kubrick’s film was part science fiction, part art film, and part “ultimate trip” head  movie, and 2010’s ambitions are, well, if not smaller, then at least a great deal more direct.

When approaching 2010, one must, therefore, dispense with the perhaps-unreasonable expectation that the enterprise is going to rival, or even near the majesty and awe of its 1968 predecessor.

Because a funny thing might happen once you jettison those personal expectations (or, perhaps, your memories of 2001).

Another truth looms ever more apparent.

2010: The Year We Make Contact is still a very good science fiction film, though of a markedly different style. 

Where 2001: A Space Odyssey took man to the precipice of his own future, and to the next step of his very evolution, the sequel is very much about who man is “now” (in 1984, essentially).

Where 2001: A Space Odyssey offered a commentary on how man’s tools could overwhelm his life, and his environs (remember the white-on-white minimalism of the production design…) 2010 instead reveals man grappling with his still-human nature: the propensity to fear that which he doesn’t understand, and to go to war over territory or ideology.

2001 paid some attention to that idea, certainly. One scene in the space station lounge saw Heywood Floyd meet some Soviet scientists, and they questioned him about all the secrecy on Clavius. The scene hinted at on-going rivalries and distrust between Super Powers.

Similarly, the orbiting nuclear platforms depicted in A Space Odyssey suggested that war and hostility had survived and endured to the 21st century. Man’s competitive nature -- apparent from the moment the ape-man tossed a bone-weapon into the air at the dawn of the species -- was thus seen as unchanged.

Yet in Kubrick’s film that idea was merely a note in a great and elaborate symphony.

In Hyams’ 2010, by contrast, that note underlines and even dominates the entire composition. It does so in faithful, earnest adaptation of Clarke’s 1982 literary source material, as well as in a brutally honest reckoning with the political details of the early 1980s.

In many ways, 2010 is thus the “hot” to 2001’s “cold.” 

The snow-blind whites, minimalism  and yet majesty of the space station and other settings in 2001 have been replaced, largely, in 2010 by cluttered, smoky control rooms bathed in suffusing red alert lighting. 

And the sequel’s characters -- instead of showcasing smooth, emotionless efficiency as Frank Poole or David Bowman did -- experience outbreaks of panic, fear, homesickness, and even…humor.

If Kubrick’s film took a big step back from the characters and attempted to observe the long arc of man’s development with a sense of cerebral detachment, Hyams’ film instead examines man at this juncture with passionate, colorful, up-close strokes.

When considered in such terms, 2010: The Year We Make Contact might be viewed as a pretty strong and, yes, wholly valid complement to Kubrick’s film. It is both a faithful continuation of the franchise’s overall narrative, and at the same time an apparent commentary on the visionary world envisioned by Kubrick. 

It’s almost as if this sequel applies the brakes -- the aerobrakes? -- in response to 2001’s flights of imagination and futurism. 

It says, insteadHold on!  We’re not quite there yet

The famous black Monolith may have judged Bowman ready to evolve into a star child, but for now, the rest of humanity remains mired in conflict and self-destructive impulses.

Absent entirely in 2010: The Year We Make Contact is Kubrick’s sense of “order in the universe,” the amazing compositions which suggest a God’s eye view of the cosmos.

Missing as well is the feeling that we humans are part of a long, ongoing process of development, moving from our “dawn” to “the infinite and beyond.” 

The sequel substitutes such awesome visions and ideas with a direct, teletype-style message to mankind (from the aliens…), transcribed by HAL.  “All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace.”

In 1984 -- soon after The Day After (1983) aired on television, and at the height of East-West Cold War tensions -- the Klaatu-esque message of this film really resonated, at least with my teenage self. It was less “grand,” perhaps, “less cosmic” than Kubrick’s intellectual musings, but perhaps 2010’s direct approach was the very thing that audiences needed to hear at that moment in history.

Bluntly worded, 2010 tells its audience this: you can’t evolve and be “a star child” until you grow the fuck up. 

The astronauts of the film -- men and women from the United States and the Soviet Union -- are at the vanguard of that growth, and become the very symbols for man’s ability to, even in dire circumstances, to evolve beyond basic tribal instincts.

So if 2001 concerns what man will one day become, 2010 suggests how he needs to get there, through the end of war and petty conflict.

“My God, it’s full of stars.”

Nine long years after Discovery One went silent near Jupiter, and Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) was lost approaching the strange, alien monolith, the Cold War on Earth has grown hot. 

The Soviet Union and the United States of America tussle over the resources and loyalty of the Third World.  A problem in Central America, in Honduras, grows ever worse, and the United States threatens a naval blockade.

Meanwhile, Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider) is asked to spearhead a mission to Jupiter, to re-activate the HAL 9000,  nd then determine the nature of the mysterious Monolith.  

Unfortunately, the Russians will beat the Americans to the derelict Discovery One, so an accommodation --- a joint mission -- is broached by the competitors.

Floyd and an American team consisting of computer expert Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban), and Discovery One designer Walter Curnow (John Lithgow) thus board the Russian craft, Leonov, under the command of Captain Tanya Kirbuk (Helen Mirren) for the journey.  In turn, they will share their findings about the Monolith.

Leonov begins its long space journey, and takes a detour to Europa, where chlorophyll -- an early sign of life -- has been detected.  A probe is sent to examine the surface of Europa, but is destroyed by an unknown force.

Later, the Leonov conducts a difficult aero-braking maneuver on approach to the Discovery, and Dr. Chandra revives HAL.

Meanwhile, on Earth, an entity resembling Dave Bowman begins to appear to the astronaut’s surviving family members.  He tells them that something wonderful is going to happen, and soon.

Tensions on Earth grow exponentially worse, and at the same time, HAL warns the crews of the Leonov and Discovery One that this area of space is becoming dangerous because of a strange “storm” of Monoliths in the atmosphere of Jupiter.

With the storm expanding, and the outcome unknown, the two space crews must put their ideology and suspicion behind them to survive and escape this region of space.

“We should each be treated with appropriate respect.”

2001: A Space Odyssey raised many questions about the universe, mankind’s evolution, and even the reasons why the HAL 9000 went berserk.

2010: The Year We Make Contact makes no bones about the fact that it is in the business of providing answers.

For instance, early in the film it is established that the final reports regarding Discovery One and the Jupiter Mission failure left its readers with “a good amount of questions.”  Just like some members of the audience for 2001. Later, Floyd reveals, in voice-over, very detailed information about the Monolith “controlling” everything in nearby space. He seems to know a lot about it.

If the sequel boasts any substantial flaw it is that it feels both conceived and executed to satisfy those who were unsatisfied by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Accordingly, the answers just keep on coming.

And yet, if you were unsatisfied by 2001, you didn’t really get the movie, did you?

Leaving that issue aside 2010 takes great artistic pains to “ground” all the proceedings in terms that its audience would easily comprehend. For example, Floyd feels guilt and remorse about sending the Discovery One crew people to die, and so this Leonov mission is explicitly one about his redemption.

This won’t bring those men back,” or provide “absolution” suggests Heywood’s wife. 

And again, one need only note that in 2001, we had no such insight into Mr. Floyd, or his motivations. He was not humanized in such fashion.

Other characters are similarly endowed with traits that ground them, or make them more recognizably human and contemporary. Chandra is prideful at times, and Curnow undergoes a bit of fear or agoraphobia on a harrowing spacewalk. During the tense aero-breaking scene, Floyd and an attractive Russian astronaut clutch one another, out of abject fear.

Even when Dave was locked out of the Pod Bay of the Discovery in 2001, he evidenced no such outward signs of fear.

Indeed, the film’s entire approach to character is best exemplified by Curnow’s line that he misses the color “green.” 

Was there any green (outside the Dawn of Man segment) in 2001?  Was there any explicit longing for it?

What 2010: The Year We Make Contact wants to suggest, then, is that although man may erect a white-on-white future, he’s not going to like it, and he’s still going to long for the “green” of terrestrial Earth.  He’s still going to be “man" as we recognize him now.

HAL is newly humanized as well in this sequel. We learn that he is, essentially, schizophrenic, because of the contradictory orders he received from home base. Instead of acting as a ruthless, cunning opponent, he becomes here a figure of sympathy, one who even asks if he will “dream” when Discovery One is destroyed.

Finally, the ghost of David Bowman indulges in behavior that we would consider extremely human and emotional too. He visits his relatives on Earth. He combs his elderly mother’s hair.

Again, this kind of material is absolutely absent from 2001: A Space Odyssey, where even a vid-phone call between father and child feels strangely distant and unemotional. But 2010 is a different film.

This film’s modus operandi -- also evidenced in the desire to create thrilling space action scenes like the space walk or the aero-braking --  is to showcase the yin/yang of human emotions or passions.

The environs of the Leonov, the new ship created for the sequel, likewise showcase this aesthetic. The ship’s control room is always either under-lit and dark, or bathed in red light. Papers are scattered everywhere, on panels and tables. The visual aesthetic is much more Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) than it is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. And again, that’s because the film wants to present a realistic portrayal of emotional, contemporary man in space. 

Why? Well, the film examines man at close-up range. He can be wonderful and good, seeking absolution, longing for nature's "green," or acknowledging his fears. Or he can bring the world to the precipice of nuclear Armageddon. 

And again, I feel it incumbent to note as well the apocalypse mentality of the country in the first Reagan presidency, which forms the cultural context behind this sequel. This was a time when in public forums Russia was derided as “The Evil Empire,” and it was announced (as a joke) that bombing Russia would begin in "five minutes." It was an era in which cabinet appointees like Secretary of the Interior James Watts declared it was not really necessary to take care of the planet's environment because Jesus Christ would return in his lifetime, and this would be the last generation.  These words are not my opinion of what happened, they are part of the historical record, and therefore not partisan or biased. These things were said in public, and heard in the public square, by children and adults alike. They were noted.

2010: The Year We Make Contact is very much about that context (as well as the Falklands Island War…), an environment of distrust and concern about nuclear war in which it becomes impossible to visualize your “enemy” as another human being, but rather as a godless monster that must be destroyed. 

The message is made plain in the film terms of the astronauts’ behavior, and their cooperative solution for survival. 

To endure a disaster near Jupiter, two ships and two crews must literally become one. 

The Russian Leonov and the American Discovery One must join together and pool resources -- literally as one ship -- to see a new sunrise.  This is the Monolith’s lesson for the entirety of Earth as well. The two rival super-powers --  if they hope to claim their stake in space -- must become one. They must treat each other “with appropriate respect” and recognize their enemy’s common humanity.

The aliens final message in the film is very on the nose.  “Use these worlds together. Use them in peace.” 

If humans do not do so, the implication is that the Monolith aliens will respond accordingly. The events on Europa with the destroyed probe reveal that these aliens will brook no interference with their agenda. Again, this seems highly reminiscent, at least to me, of The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), and its alien ultimatum.

“Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration.”

2001: A Space Odyssey doesn’t transmit an easily-digestible message like that, which can be stated in a few simple words, and 2010: The Year We Make Contact does.  The two films stand in stark contrast because of that difference. 2001 coolly asks its audience to interpret its message, and 2010 states its message, rather bluntly and emotionally, and with some degree of heat and excitement.

In general, I prefer Kubrick’s approach, but there are times when the 2010 approach becomes a necessity too…especially if you are the parent of a misbehaving child. 

As such a parent figure (as the Monolith aliens may be to humanity), it is necessary at times to make certain you are heard and clearly understood

The message in 2010 is indeed clearly heard and understood. That fact doesn’t make the movie “bad.”  It just makes the film a very different kind of space opera from its predecessor. 

Beautifully mounted, and buttressed with splendid recreations of the Discovery One, and some tense moments in space, 2010 is a worthwhile film, and a solid sequel to one of the cinema’s all-time greats.  We can remember it that way, in part, because it sought not to imitate a great film, but to chart its own (if ultimately less challenging..) territory.

Another way to put it. We may not give 2010 equal respect to 2001, but let us all treat it with "appropriate" respect nonetheless.

Movie Trailer: 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

E.T. Halloween Costume (Collegeville)

E.T. - The Storybook

Trading Cards of the Week: E.T. (Topps)

E.T Colorforms Adventure Set

E.T. GAF Viewmaster

Tribute: Yvonne Craig (1937 - 2015)

I awoke this morning to the terrible news that the great Yvonne Craig (1937-2015) has passed away.

I grew up watching Yvonne Craig as Batgirl on the classic Batman (1966-1968) TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward.  Ms. Craig's Barbara Gordon/Batgirl was introduced in the third and final season of that program, and her portrayal of the young hero revitalized the series. 

Athletic, energetic, graceful and witty, Craig's Batgirl brought new life to a format and program that had grown stale and repetitive. For many viewers, Batgirl became a reason to tune back in to a faltering phenom.

Yvonne Craig's film and TV career extends far beyond the bat-cowl, however.  She also appeared -- quite memorably -- as poor, Mad Marta -- consort to Garth of Izar -- in the third season episode of Star Trek (1966 - 1969): "Whom Gods Destroy."  There Craig's Marta romanced, and attempted to kill Captain Kirk (William Shatner), all while in green body paint.

Beyond these pop culture touchstones, Craig proved a regular presence on all the great genre TV series of the 1960s.  

She had roles on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in 1964, and My Favorite Martian and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in 1965, for example.  In the seventies, she guest starred on Land of the Giants, The Magician and The Six Million Dollar Man, and Ms. Craig also made an appearance on Fantasy Island in 1983.

She also appeared in the Bond film-knock-off In Like Flint (1967) as Natasha the ballerina.

Yvonne Craig's talent, beauty and trademark joie de vivre is irreplaceable. She will be greatly missed, and today I know that many people of my generation -- for whom Batgirl was a role model -- will mourn.

Rest in peace, Yvonne Craig.