Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Movie Trailer: My Science Project (1985)

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Space Seed" (February 16, 1967)

Stardate 3141.9

The U.S.S. Enterprise encounters a derelict vessel adrift in space: the S.S. Botany Bay.

This primitive Earth ship -- launched in a time of global turmoil, the 1990s – is a sleeper ship carrying 72 men and women from that time period.

The leader of the group -- Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) -- is awakened from suspended animation, and almost immediately plots to take over the Enterprise.

He does this with the help of ship’s historian Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue), who possesses a fascination -- even obsession -- with men of the past.

Even as Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) identifies Khan as a brutal tyrant from the Eugenic Wars, Khan makes his power play, awakening his fellow genetically-engineered superman, and proceeding to hijack the Enterprise.

Now Captain Kirk (William Shatner) must regain command of his ship, and find a suitable punishment for the insurrectionists and their leader, a man who does not belong in the 23rd century. 

He settles on banishment, sending Khan and his people to the harsh but tamable world, Ceti Alpha V.

In response to his sentence, Khan quotes Paradise Lost.

There are no two ways about it. “Space Seed” is a virtually perfect episode of Star Trek (1966-1969).

“Space Seed” moves with purpose, energy, and suspense, and is grounded by the charismatic central performance by Ricardo Montalban as Khan. The episode even ends with a note of foreboding or anticipation, which is perfect considering the franchise’s return to this story-line in 1982.  The last moments of the episode find Spock wondering what Khan’s planet, Ceti Alpha V, will give rise to in 100 years.

The franchise would wait just fifteen years, series time, to reveal the answer.  But the final episode of the moment is chilling, and raises questions about Kirk’s decision.  Will Khan build an Empire? A new kind of human race? A city on a Hill, or will he “reign in Hell?”

Given the prominent placement that Khan has been assigned in the modern Star Trek mythos, it might be worthwhile to note here that before the Wrath of Khan, “Space Seed” wasn’t judged by most Star Trek fans to be one of the best or most memorable episodes of the series. 

Many modern fans and writers insist that Khan is to Captain Kirk as Joker is to Batman, and that’s not quite true.  Khan rose to real prominence in the franchise in 1982, after Wrath of Khan proved such a dramatic success at the box office.

Remember, the original Star Trek is structured as a traditional TV series, meaning that there are, essentially, 79 dramatic (or standalone) threats to Kirk and Company, none necessarily graver than the others. Had Harve Bennett decided to sequelize “Charlie X” or “Who Mourns for Adonais” or 
“The Omega Glory,” we would have had the Wrath of Charlie, The Wrath of Apollo or The Wrath of Ron Tracey and those villains would have risen to “Joker’ status in the franchise instead.

But delightfully, Khan is a perfect selection to become the go-to “mythic” villain in the Star Trek universe. This is so because Star Trek in shape and form is a celebration of diversity, of the Vulcan concept of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations).  The crew succeeds in its space missions based on the qualities of the team, which includes people of different backgrounds and experiences. We’ve got Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, Chapel and even Kyle.  

They don’t all look the same or act the same, and they boast different experiences and different expertise too. 

And yet this coalition of diverse personalities works together as a flawless team to confront mysteries and crises.

That team is faced, in “Space Seed,” with a genetically-engineered superman, an autocratic “trait” leader.  Khan, a tyrant, leads because of his artificially-augmented traits. He has been engineered to possess the physical strength of ten men, and the intellect of a genius.  He does not command via consensus or team-building.  He does not value the rights or freedoms of the individual, or different experiences.

And yet, in the end, the superman -- “a prince…with power over millions…” -- is defeated by “regular” people working together in that diverse team.

Thus “Space Seed” is a statement that affirms humanity’s capabilities and potential. Man need not be a superhero to explore the stars, or improve the species.  Instead, he must incorporate all colors, cultures and beliefs, and shepherd those diverse experiences to achieve meaningful goals.

Khan represents a threat to that approach. He represents the idea -- as Spock suggests – of tyranny; of the individual subjugated under the ‘whip’ of one charismatic strongman. 

Just as the Borg represent a significant attack on Star Trek values (the idea of drones, not individuals tending to a society), Khan does so too.  He symbolizes both out-of-control science (creating avaricious supermen) and the idea of those scientific monstrosities lording it over the masses, eliminating the diversity exemplified by McCoy, Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Scotty and Chekov in favor of a fascist leader who sees only followers, and worlds to conquer.  All the little people are under his thrall, under that proverbial whip.  Their experiences don’t matter. They’re, well, merely cannon fodder.

By Wrath of Khan, Khan represents a slight variation on this theme. There, he is a leader consumed with revenge, who refuses to listen to his crew.  Kirk, by contrast, does listen to his crew, and gleans the way to defeat Khan from his friendship with and trust in a friend, Spock, who notes the villain’s “two-dimensional thinking.” Kirk’s friendship is reciprocated to the degree that Spock sacrifices himself to preserve his friends, the team.  Khan may be genetically superior, but he leads by dictate and fear. He bullies his team members (like Judson Scott’s Joaquim) into submission. He sees no real value in anything save his own perceived superiority

In terms of Star Trek continuity, “Space Seed,” fills in some crucial gaps.  We learn from this episode that mankind fought a third World War in the 1990s, one in which whole populations were bombed out of existence. It was out of the rubble of this war that the “united” future began to come about.  In our history, of course, none of this occurred in the 1990s, and later editions of Star Trek, like Voyager (“Future’s End”) have backtracked some on the 1990s being a time of devastating war and destruction.

“Space Seed” also cements a rather unfortunate and now dated aspect to the classic series: a female crew-member seduced by a charismatic man to take mutinous action against her own crew. Here, Marla McGivers acquiesces to Khan, who -- let’s face it -- treats her abusively, at least at first, and aids his efforts to take over the ship.

This idea recurs in “Who Mourns for Adonais,” when Lt. Carolyn Palamis (Leslie Parrish) becomes consort to Apollo, who wishes to subjugate the crew and crush the Enterprise hull like an egg shell. To a lesser degree, we also saw this paradigm with Dr. Dehner (Sally Kellerman) and Mitchell in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

But the bottom line is that we rarely, if ever, in Star Trek history (original series) meet a male crew-member who gets seduced by a woman and takes adopts her agenda, ignoring his duties, oath, and training for “love” (or lust, anyway).  Instead, it is only female Starfleet officers, apparently, who do so.

I suspect “Space Seed” gets away with this plot line to the degree it does for a few reasons.

First, Madlyn Rhue goes a long way towards suggesting that McGivers marches to the beat of her own drummer.

The character is depicted as an artist, and as a sensitive individual who is genuinely overcome by her passion for history, for the storied past. When she is taken with Khan, we can see her interest in him is a result of her character, not merely a (stereotypical) weakness of the gender.

Similarly, Montalban is extremely charismatic as Khan, not to mention forceful. Since McGivers’ recovers her center in due time, and Khan comes to profess his love for her, one can write off McGiver’s bad behavior as a temporary lapse.  How often, after all, do we meet a man from “the 20th century coming alive?”  That could catch anyone off-guard, right?

Similarly, the scenes in which Scotty and Kirk admit a “grudging” respect for Khan help us realize that this genetically-engineered superman is quite magnetic, and casts a spell on those around him.

Actually, this aspect of the episode speaks to another human truth, about our species’ worship for strong-men, figures who lead -- not always fairly -- but by din of personality, charisma, and promises of greatness, or returning to a time when things were better.

Those who offer the world “order” and link themselves to that order, represent, in some way, a retreat to non-thinking safety and comfort.  We trust in them, instead of facing the hard questions ourselves.

But still, we rarely see men in Star Trek experience such temporary lapses over their proximity to a woman.  Kirk, for example, stays focused on his duties when encountering Mudd’s Women, Odona, an even Elaan of Troyius.  Their charms are not enough to make him forget his responsibilities.

“Space Seed” moves with such momentum and grace that it is easy to overlook these and other little bumps in the road.  For instance, Kirk seems foolish to have let this “guest” have full access to the ship’s library of technical manuals. But this reckoning only comes after watching the episode multiple times.

In terms of the genre, one might note how the premise of a person from the past being revived from suspended animation in the future, became a trope after “Space Seed.” 

We have seen it in episodes of The Starlost (“Lazarus from the Mist”), Logan’s Run (“Crypt”), Ark II (“The Cryogenic Man,”) and even Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Neutral Zone.”)  Yet, no man (or woman) from the past has quite impacted the direction of a franchise the way Khan ultimately has in Star Trek.

Sometimes I lament the character’s influence. Since Wrath of Khan we have met too many villains who are bent on revenge, or who get their hands on the latest weapon of mass destruction (like Genesis).  I don’t blame Khan or Montablan.

Rather, it’s a testament to the actor’s (and character’s) success that every filmmaker wants to recreate the danger and charisma this villain offers. 

But for “Space Seed,” Khan gives Star Trek one of its most exciting and thought-provoking hours.

It asks: does humanity increase the species' influence in the universe by bringing everyone along as part of the team?  Or by selecting a strong man to lead the way?

The Films of 1985: My Science Project

If a movie-goer desires to seek out a perfect time capsule of the year 1985, he or she should be immediately directed to Jonathan R. Betuel’s My Science Project (1985), a science fiction film that very strongly reflects the age in which it was made...right down to a scene of high school typing class and electric typewriters.

Described broadly, My Science Project is a “teens meet science fiction” action-adventure from the same year that gave audiences Weird Science (1985) and Real Genius (1985). All these films combine raucous teen humor and juvenile characters with sf imagery and concepts.

My Science Project is also, specifically, a teenager time travel adventure that landed smack-dab in the age of Back to the Future (1985) and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1988). 

Again, young characters are suddenly faced with scenarios out of H.G. Wells, and must contend not only with denizens of other times, but, often, temporal paradoxes as well. At the same time, they are concerned about flunking their classes.

Beyond these touches, My Science Project is packed, wall-to-wall, frame-by-frame with self-reflexive jokes about pop culture, evidencing a protean trend that would fully come into its own in the 1990s, particularly in the horror genre. 

In the mid-to-late eighties,  however, some young filmmakers who had grown up with television and film as constant background noise began utilizing allusions to those media as “touch stones” for an aging generation. My Science Project is at the tip of that spear.

Finally, My Science Project even attempts -- in the Reagan Era, no less -- to grapple with the divisive legacy of the 1960s and, among other issues, the Vietnam War and the anti-war counter-culture.  

Again, this was precisely where the culture soon headed in films such as Platoon (1986) and Casualties of War (1989).

With all this happening during its 95 minute confines, My Science Project should be nothing less than wall-to-wall excitement and invention. And though it’s true that the film’s pace is generally frenetic, My Science Project -- a box office bomb -- never fully manages to fully succeed on its own creative terms.

The movie is loud, busy, and buoyed by occasionally effective imagery (especially for the 1980s), but no single scene or set-piece really stands out, and none of the characters are entirely memorable, either.  Some scenes really fly, and other simply never take off.

But succeed or fail, this cult Betuel film will make you nostalgic for 1985.

“Do something special…do something original…”

At Kit Carson High School, grease monkey Michael Harlan (John Stockwell) meets with an ultimatum from his science teacher, Bob Roberts (Dennis Hopper): If he doesn’t submit an amazing final science project, he will fail the class.

While out on a pseudo-date with nerdy school reporter Ellie (Danielle Von Zerneck), Michael visits a Department of Defense Disposal Depot. 

There, in a subterranean storage facility, he discovers a strange unearthly "gizmo," an engine, or energy generator. Unbeknownst to Harlan, the instrument hails from an alien flying saucer that President Eisenhower ordered destroyed in 1957.

Michael, his wise-cracking friend, Vince (Fisher Stevens) and Ellie return to the high school with the device, which promptly absorbs energy from any technology nearby, including flashlights and car batteries.  Mr. Roberts is fascinated by the device and hooks it up to a power outlet in his science lab, an act which gives the extra-terrestrial machine access to almost infinite power.

The machine creates a vortex or warp over the school and sucks Mr. Roberts inside of it. Then, epochs from the past appear inside the high school itself.  

Michael and his friends soon encounter Neanderthals, Roman gladiators, the Viet Cong, and even a hungry T-Rex (in the school gym) in their efforts to shut down the alien generator.

“My ears are ringing like The Gong Show.”

Perhaps the biggest reason that My Science Project remains largely obscure today involves the characters. 

Not one of them is particularly memorable, or played with a lot of color. Fisher Steven’s quipping Vincent is the obvious candidate for break-out status here, but his character quickly wears out his welcome with a constant stream of pop-culture allusions and wise cracks. He seems so determined to reference TV shows and movies that it is not clear he is ever a real "person."

John Stockwell -- a fine actor (and now, director…) in films such as Christine (1983) and Top Gun (1986) -- leads the cast ably, and does a good job, but the script does him no favors. The scenes between Michael and his father and new step-mother go nowhere and have no emotional pay-off. They may be important thematically (as we'll see later in this review) but they are given no punctuation.

Worse, the “romantic” angle with Von Zerneck is never compelling or convincing (see Joe Dante’s Explorers [1985] for an innocent teen-romance that seems a bit more natural).

Additionally, the frenetic nature of the story requires the actors to run back and forth a lot, attempting to deal with surprises around every high school corridor. This approach leaves little time for character-based humor, or even a sense of a story arc. The overall feeling is of racing from one scene to the next, so that none carries any more weight than another.

The film also appears to have been heavily tampered with in the editing stage. The great Richard Masur is introduced as a Texas detective with great fanfare, and then has almost zero impact on the narrative. 

Visually, the film is hampered -- and made to look ugly at times -- by the near constant use of fog machines and neon strobes. 

Still, some moments are genuinely impressive in terms of imagery. The visual effects involving the vortex (and the dance of energy around Hopper’s character…) are really solid, and hold up nicely today. 

And for a pre-CGI age film, the sequence with the T-Rex in the gymnasium is particularly well-rendered.  In fact, it is well-rendered enough that it should be the highlight of the whole movie, except for the fact that the teenagers gun it down with Vietnam Era army rifles.  

Sure, the dinosaur is dangerous, but the scene has no sense of awe, no sense of majesty, and doesn’t build to anything beyond a quick “high.”

The explicit fun of teen movies like Explorers or Back to the Future is their comical interludes with danger, but somehow the presence of grenades and machine guns here (used against -- let’s face it -- a confused dinosaur) isn’t fun in the slightest.  

A better outcome would have been to see the T-Rex somehow trapped in the gym instead of gunned down.  All sense of fun disappears, after all, when viewers are left to gape at a dinosaur's blown-up chest cavity for a sustained length of time.

This is a prime occasion when the movie needs a light touch, but settles for flashy pyrotechnics.

Certainly, My Science Project is ahead of its time in terms of its post-modern or meta-approach to its story. 

Vince is a constant font of pop-culture information, referencing Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, The Gong Show, The Twilight Zone and even McCloud.  

It’s possible that these allusions were meant to welcome viewers and let them know that the movie shares their language and cultural history.  But the references don’t amount to much overall, except perhaps for the clip of the Morlocks from The Time Machine (1960).  

That (great) film spearheaded time travel adventures in the cinema, and warned of the downfall of man in the distant future. Here, the preoccupied teenage kids learn about an impending (neon) apocalypse, replete with mutants, and yet can’t be bothered to think about it, or try to stop it, even.  

The downfall of man has begun in earnest, perhaps.

My Science Project’s negotiation of 1960s issues is worthy of examination too. Good laughs are drawn from Hopper’s ‘hippie’ teacher who drives off, at one point, to “an anti-war alumni meeting.”  

He goes on the greatest trip of all, thanks to the alien machine, reliving his days at Woodstock, and so forth.  Hopper is a perfect casting choice, given his participation in Easy Rider (1969), not to mention The Last Movie (1971)

But implicit in these Hopper-based scenes is the sense of closure: the professor is an old guy living, resolutely, in the past, looking to relive past glories.  He is not a person of the present, or dealing with present concerns. The conflicts of the sixties are behind us, My Science Project suggests.

My Science Project puts the Vietnam Era -- and the deep-seated psychological fear it spawned of America military adventurism overseas -- behind us by thoughtlessly arming its citizen protagonists, and having them gun-battle their way through hordes of future mutants, as well as the aforementioned T-Rex. 

The under-the-surface message seems to be that it is okay for America to love guns and militarism again; that the diffidence that came with the Vietnam Era is gone in the Age of Reagan.  We all know how well this so-called "New Patriotism" eventually turned out (see: The Iraq War).

Writing at Tor.com in 2010, critic Jacob Steingroot offers audiences another intriguing (and, I think, valid) way of reading this Betuel film. 

He suggests that Harlan’s unsettled life (dealing with a break-up and a changing situation on the domestic front), is paralleled by the energy generator’s time/hopping alterations of reality.

Betuel depicts the nebulous feeling of being a teen. Things that seem concrete one day change dramatically the next. Harlan’s relationship with his girlfriend ends for reasons he can’t understand. He comes home to find that his single dad has remarried and their house has been refurnished with pink pillows and drapery. Vince, because of his parents’ divorce, is forced to leave Brooklyn for New Mexico....The confusing uncertainty of being a teen, the feeling that the world is out of control is echoed and expanded through the notion of the space/time warp.

I appreciate Steingroot’s explanation of the film's leitmotif or modus operandi, here, and feel that it holds up well. Space/time does seem to operate in strange ways when you’re a teenager.  Life either moves too fast, or too slow, right?  Friendships change, perceptions change, and even bodies change, day-to-day.  Steingroot's thesis makes a re-watch of My Science Project much richer and much more thought-provoking.

Hailing from the age that brought us Back to the Future, Real Genius, and Explorers, to name just a few, My Science Project doesn’t earn an automatic “A,” perhaps, despite such a  worthwhile (and thoughtful) attempt to fully rehabilitate the picture.

Why? Well, for much of its running time, My Science Project lacks the visual and narrative classicism of a Spielberg or Dante film, missing that mark by quite a margin. 

But perhaps the movie deserves some extra credit all these years later for its self-reflexive approach to culture, and its (not-always-successful) attempt to put the sixties squarely in Harlan’s rear-view mirror. 

And if we accept the time warp as a metaphor for turbulent adolescence, perhaps there’s even more  to like and appreciate in My Science Project than meets the eye.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memory Bank: Spy Hunter (Bally-Midway; 1983)

In the early-to-mid 1980s -- when I was in middle school and high school -- my best friends and I would sometimes walk down Benson Street in Glen Ridge to a diner on Broad Street in Bloomfield.  

Now, if you don't know this area of New Jersey (namely Essex County), that diner is not far from Holsten's in Bloomfield, the ice cream shop that appears occasionally in The Sopranos (1999 - 2007).

We're going back more than thirty years now, so some of my memories are fuzzy,and I hope I have it right.  I'm open to the fact that I may not. 

But I believe the diner opened in 1981 and was called the Nevada Dinner.  

We were kids, however, so we weren't going there to sit down and eat.

Instead, we were going to play the arcade game in the diner; Spy Hunter, by Bally-Midway. It was an arcade unit, but not the kind that was designed for sit-down play.  

You had to stand, but at that age, we didn't care.

We would play the game for a good long while, assuming we had enough quarters.

Spy Hunter was designed by George Gomez, and originally intended to be a James Bond video game. When the 007 license couldn't be acquired, however, the game was modified, and became Spy Hunter.

But heck, you could still pretend to be James Bond while you played, even if the soundtrack song was not Monty Norman's, but Henry Mancini's theme from Peter Gunn (1958-1961).

The field of play in the game, as you may remember, is a bird-s eye view. 

You are looking down at a snaking road, and a car speeding down (or rather, up...) that road.  

Your car is the G-6155 Interceptor, and it has been modified with such 007-ish "extras" such as an oil slick, a missile launcher, and a smoke screen. These instruments prove useful as you engage with many bad guy cars.

While driving, you can also visit your mobile headquarters, a weapon's van, or convert your car to aqua/boat function, by pulling into a boat house. If memory serves, there are also, sometimes, icy conditions to navigate.

I remember all of us buddies standing in a small alcove, in front of that arcade screen, trying to see how far we could get in the adventure.  I guess the joke was really on us.  

Not only because the Peter Gunn song is addictive, and it won't leave your thoughts no matter how hard you try, but because the game had no ending. 

It just kept on scrolling, forever. 

Spy Hunter...the endless James Bond-ish adventure.

Soon enough, Spy Hunter was available in a home video game format. I had a game version for the Atari 800 home computer, I'm pretty certain.  

But it wasn't the same, somehow, as the arcade version.

Somehow it was more fun hearing that music, driving that car, and playing that game with friends, after the walk to the restaurant.  

It was more fun knowing that you had a pocket full of quarters, and once they were gone, you were done...whether you liked it or not.

Of course, it was also very, very expensive to play the addictive Spy Hunter in a arcade setting, so I guess some memories seem more attractive with age and distance.

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Sun Glasses

Sun glasses are eye glasses tinted to protect the eyes from bright objects, such as the sun, or from glare.

And don't we all look so much cooler in our sun-glasses?  Even when we wear them at night?

Sun-glasses have proven the epitome of cool on cult-TV programming throughout history, but they have represented more than that definition suggests as well.

For example, on Star Trek's (1966-1969) "Operation: Annihilate," Kirk (William Shatner) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) had to don special eye goggles to protect them from a light that would mimic the intensity of Deneva's sun.  Unfortunately, that light (temporarily) blinded Spock (Leonard Nimoy).

Similarly, the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode (1979-1981) called "Happy Birthday Buck" features an assassin named Traeger who -- after being incarcerated in a subterranean prison for many years -- must wear sun-glasses to shield his eyes from normal light levels. 

And on V: The Series (1985), The alien visitors from Sirius always wore thick sun-glasses while stationed outside, on Earth. Their Reptilian eyes, apparently, couldn't handle the strength of Sol's light.

Sometimes, as I've noted, sun-glasses have frequently been equated to coolness or bad-assery.  

A perfect example comes from Smallville (2001 - 2011). When Clark Kent (Tom Welling) wears a class-ring laced with Red Kryptonite, for example, he becomes a rule-breaking, motorcycle-driving rebel who wears...shades.

Over the years, many other cool kats have worn sun-glasses too, from Mulder (David Duchovny) on The X-Files (1993 - 2002) to Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder) on The Vampire Diaries (2009 - ).

The Cult-TV Faces of: Sun Glasses

Identified by Hugh: Space:1999 "The Force of Life"

Identified by Hugh: V

Identified by Hugh: The Man from Atlantis:"Crystal Water, Sudden Death"

Identified by Hugh: Twin Peaks.
Identified by Hugh:The X-Files.

Identified by Hugh: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Identified by Hugh: Smallville: "Red."

Identified by Hugh: Veronica Mars

Identified by Hugh: Superatural

Identified by Hugh:Dexter

Identified by Hugh: Fringe.

Identified by Hugh: True Blood

Identified by Hugh: The Vampire Diaries

Identified by Hugh: Grimm

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Advert Art: Starship Troopers (Sega Edition)

At Flashbak: The Green Machine

This week at Flashbak, I remembered Marx Toy’s Green Machine.

“In the year 1977, if you were just too big for a “Big Wheel,” there was only one alternative: Marx’s The Green Machine. 

Selling for just under twenty dollars, this pedal-operated hot rod had adjustable bucket seats, “hug the road tip-proof-design,” stick-shift controls and as per-size mag-style wheel with a honeycomb design on it.

It was the perfect ride, according to promotional materials, “for guys 8 9, 10 years old who really know how to ride.” 

Hopefully, it was for gals who knew how to ride too.

Other ads described the Green Machine as “mean,” and the “ultimate in low-slung style and performance” with a “low center of gravity…”

Please continue reading at Flashbak.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Blackstar: "Spacewrecked" (October 17, 1981 )

In “Spacewrecked,” John Blackstar’s lover, Katana follows his trajectory by tracing the photon vapor trail from his ship.  It leads through the black hole, and on the other side of the phenomenon she is reunited with him. They make plans to leave Sagar together. The Trobbits are heartbroken.

Their joy is short-lived, however, because The Overlord wants to possess the spaceship -- a “time ship capable of multi-verse travel” -- for his evil plans. Overlord captures Katana and hypnotizes her into stealing the star-sword.

But the Overlord hasn’t reckoned with the greatest power in the universe: “love.”

Filmation’s Blackstar focuses on Sagar, and the battle between the human astronaut and the Overlord. But in the case of “Spacewrecked,” audiences get to see a bit more detail about Blackstar’s personal life, as well as the hierarchy he operates under. 

The episode starts with Katana communicating via radio to her home base, as she contemplates a trip through the black hole. 

And the episode ends with the promise that she will return to help Blackstar.  She communicates again with Earth, and tells mission control “I’ll need the entire fleet for my mission. I’m going back there to help him.”

Unfortunately, Blackstar was canceled after one season of just 13 episodes, and audiences never saw Katana’s return.  It’s certainly possible, however, to imagine a final episode in which the cavalry from Earth comes over the hill (through the black hole...) so-to-speak and defeats the Overlord once and for all. Indeed, that would have been a great note to go out on, though the Trobbits would have been sad, in any regard, to see John Blackstar leave Sagar.

“Spacewrecked” is likely a candidate for “best episode” of the series primarily because it reveals that Earth has not forgotten about John Blackstar, and reveals that its technology is coveted by the Overlord as a great weapon, even though he typically relies on magic.  

Finally, we meet the love of Blackstar’s life and thus can start to fill in some gaps about his background and history.

Next week: “Lightning City of the Clouds.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Flash Gordon: "The Game" / "The Seed" (October 2, 1982)

In “The Game,” the rulers of Cavern City burrow into Arboria (interrupting a dance) and capture several denizens -- including Flash -- to serve as gladiators in their arena games.

In “The Seed,” Ming the Merciless embeds a new weapon inside a meteor, and then crashes it into Arboria. The strange seed sprouts a giant tentacled monster, which goes on a killing rampage.

The second season of Filmation’s Flash Gordon (1979-1982) doesn’t gain much momentum from the two stories in this installment.

We have already seen Flash in an arena fight before (in the first season installment “Chapter 12: Tournament of Death”), and we’ve also seen him lead slave rebellions too.  Accordingly, "The Game" doesn't break much in terms of new ground.

However, this story does feature a nice opening shot. We move down, from Mongo orbit, through the clouds -- down to Arboria.  It’s a nice segue, and one that gets reused a few times in the second season, and in the next batch of episodes.

As, we get to see Flash act like a “first rate ham” dancing with Dale in “The Game,” and it is hard not to reflect how his character has become more cocky and less sincere than in his first season incarnation.  He doesn't feel like Flash anymore. He doesn't take anything, even danger, seriously.

“The Seed” is pretty dire too. 

The monster that the seed looks like a cross between The Real Ghostbusters’ Slimer and the creature from Cloverfield (2008), but is vaguely humorous all the same.

Here, the best character touch involves Dae Arden learning to fly a rocket on a simulator in Arboria (about time too…).  I also liked the new hovercraft design we see during the attack on the creature.  

The episode’s ending, with the monster turning on Ming in his science lab, is pretty risible. It's a typical cartoon ending.  The villain gets his comeuppance, but by the next episode everything is back to normal.  We are never told how Ming gets rid of the beast.

Next week: “Witch Woman” and “Micro Menace”

National Twilight Zone Day: "Come Wander with Me"

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