Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Space Stars Episode #6 (October 17, 1981)

This week on Hanna Barbera’s omnibus series, Space Stars (1981), Kid Comet and Jan -- out on a date – escape collision course with a planet by breaking the time barrier.  They end up going into a distant world’s prehistoric era.  Meanwhile, Space Ghost pursues a space pirate in the Phantom Cruiser, and finds he is operating in the same prehistoric era, thanks to a time machine.

As you might guess, this is quite a coincidence, though Jan terms the serendipity a “miracle.”  This episode is distinguished not just by the contrivance of having two groups of superheroes encountering one another in a different time period, but by the use of the Super Friends sound track score.

“Elektra’s Twin” is the story of the week on “Teen Force,” and it involves another attempt by Uglor to take-down the team. Here, he lures them into space with a damaged star-liner and replaces the real Elektra with a twin he has grown in his lab. “Elektra Prime” then sets about to sabotage the Teen Force as they embark on a mission to save the free planets.  Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that Uglor’s scientists wear upside down Starfleet emblems around their necks.

The next adventure in the hour is “The Purple Menace,” a Herculoids story. Here, breakfast is interrupted on Quasar by an attack of giant purple plaints. The Herculoids investigate and find that the plants are drawing their strength from a strange growth in a nearby fissure. Radioactivity from that source is responsible for mutating normal ferns into the dangerous monsters.

In “the cold, lonely heart of space,” anything is possible, even “the supernatural,” according to this Space Ghost segment, called “The Haunted Station.”  Here, Space Ghost and his friends land on a space station an encounter zombies. These undead are actually the crew, who have had their souls stolen by a space-going, light-sensitive vampire called a Vorvoloka.  

And yes, this is a straight-up knock-off of the famous Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) episode “Space Vampire.” There, Buck (Gil Gerard) battled a soul-sucking, light-sensitive vampire -- a Vorvon -- on a space station.

The Astro and the Space Mutts assignment this week, “The Night of the Crab,” involves another ridiculous super-villain, The Crab. He steals Space Ace’s “space award” at a gathering of superheroes (which includes the Teen Force and Space Ghost) and then absconds to the “Crab” Nebula. The mutts and space ace pursue, even as the crab drenches their ship in a space storm.

About that storm, the Crab literally causes it to rain in space.  The rain floods Space Ace’s ship, and the dogs have to bail water from it.  Which makes me wonder why so many spacecraft on Space Stars have open cockpit designs.

The final story of the week, the Space Stars Finale, is called “The Crystal Menace.” The tale finds Space Ghost and friends chasing a crystal cyborg to Quasar, home of the Herculoids. This cyborg is turning everything in his path into crystal – including life forms -- and must be stopped.  The episode opens with everyone safe, and un-crystallized, but the phantom cruiser is left damaged, and according to Space Ghost will have to be replaced.

As usual, there are a number of black-outs or interstitial segments in this episode. Space Magic finds Moleculad tricking the Astromites with another coin trick, and a mighty implausible one at that.  In the Space Fact segments, the Teen Force heads to a “super hero reunion” on Earth and discusses the “international date line.”

The Space Mystery involves the Teen Force again, going after a criminal on another planet that possess an international date line.

Finally, this week’s Space Code comes from Space Ace.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Shazam: "The Boy Who Said 'No.'" (October 24, 1974)

“The Boy Who Said No” might be the weirdest and wildest episode yet of Filmation’s live-action 1970s series, Shazam (1974 – 1977).  It begins as another “moral of the week” story about a kid making good choices, but ends with a crazy double chase sequence.

In “The Boy Who Said No,” Mentor (Les Tremayne) and Billy Batson (Michael Gray) stop for groceries and park their RV.  While Billy is at the store, Mentor gets robbed, however, by a juvenile delinquent named Ron Craig.  A young boy, Larry Burn, sees Ron at the scene of the crime, but refuses to i.d. the crook because Ron has threatened and bullied him into silence.

The Elders inform Billy that he should “translate” his concern “into fitting action,” but Billy can’t get Larry to budge.  When Ron shows up at Larry’s ranch, however and abducts his father, it’s time to call in Captain Marvel.  The jittery Ron attempts to evade capture first by stealing a helicopter and taking off, and then by car-jacking Mentor’s RV…with Mentor and Larry inside!

The moral of the week comes from Captain Marvel (Jackson Bostwick), who tells young Larry that all the violence and pursuit could have been avoided if only he’d reported Ron in the first place.  The boy admits he was “afraid to get involved.” 

The kooky aspect of “The Boy Who Said No” arises in the depiction of Ron, the juvenile delinquent.  

After robbing an old man in an RV, he commits crimes much worse to evade capture.  He kidnaps three different individuals, and steals two vehicles.  That seems like a lot of work -- and a lot of extra time in jail --- over a wallet that couldn’t have had much money in it.  

In other words, in order to evade the authorities for one crime, Ron commits much, much worse crimes.  It makes no sense whatsoever.  At the end of the episode, Ron says he just “needed money,” but if that were the case, why wouldn’t he have surrendered earlier, instead of gravely compounding his guilt?

Mentor is also downright weird in this episode.  He keeps making jokes about eating lunch.  After he is attacked by Ron, for instance, Mentor doesn’t appear overly concerned, and says “Yeah…but what about lunch?”  

And at the end of the episode, Mentor says he learned the lesson of the week too: “Don’t skip lunch.”   

This is just…strange.  

Maybe that knock on the head by Ron really did poor Mentor some damage…

In terms of action, “The Boy Who Said No’ featured twice as much action as most episodes of Shazam, with Captain Marvel pursuing a criminal by air and by land.  The effects involving Captain Marvel grappling with a helicopter in flight actually hold up pretty well, thanks to some better-than-average stunt work.  There’s also a good shot of Marvel grabbing on to a passing tunnel and braking the stolen RV.

Next Week: “The Doom Buggy.”

Friday, September 16, 2016

Breakaway Day 2016: Final Post (Advert Artwork)

I hope everyone has enjoyed Breakaway 2016, and the look back at Space:1999 (1975-1977).  It is always a thrill for me to write about the series again, and revisit the episodes.

Thank you for tuning in this week and giving the blog record numbers on its review of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson classic.

Breakaway Day 2016: "All that Glisters"

Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) leads a team to a nearby planet when Main Computer reports that the world possesses the rare and vital mineral called Milganite required for Alpha’s life support system. 

On the team to find and mine the Milganite are Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain), Maya (Catherine Schell), Alan Carter (Nick Tate), Chief Security Officer Verdeschi (Tony Anholt) and geologist David Reilly  (Patrick Mower), an Irishman who fancies himself a Texan cowboy.

Once on the planet surface, the Alphans’ Milganite readings lead them to a strange orange rock in a cave. When Reilly cuts off a sample of it, it bleeds and utters a scream of pain.  Upon the deposit of the rock in the Eagle, the rock flares energy, and apparently kills Tony.

Helena determines, however, that Tony still possesses brain function, a fact which becomes apparent when Tony is “revived” to serve as the arms and legs of the rock sample, retrieving another piece of the glowing rock from the cave.

Koenig and the others soon recognize that the rocks on the planet are alive, and desperate. They require water to survive, and have been enduring a seemingly-unending drought.

But, as Maya points out with worry, there is plenty of water in the human body…

“All that Glisters” is a quite disliked episode by many Space: 1999 (1975-1977) fans, and also, actually, by some of those who participated in the making of it. 

Martin Landau’s displeasure with the script is legendary, and if you watch very closely, you can also see Catherine Schell breaking character and succumbing to fits of giggling, in a scene set on the planet exterior, as the rocks take control over the Eagle. She must turn away from the camera, once her composure fails.

Why the dislike? 

Well, there are a number of reasons, for certain. 

The episode, about a silicon-based life-forms, doesn’t treat the main characters, for the most part, in appealing or intelligent fashion. The guest star, Mower’s Reilly, for instance, is an “Irish Cowboy” and attempts a dreadful Texan accent. 

He is an obnoxious character, with little in terms of human qualities to make the audience like, or even care about him. He hits on Maya in the Eagle, to Tony’s dismay, and then constantly acts counter to Commander Koenig’s orders.  He is obsessed with a living rock.  

So, an Englishman plays an Irish cowboy who is obsessed with rocks.  That’s quite a description!

Commander Koenig, a character I love and admire, also fares poorly in the episode.  

Perhaps because of Landau’s displeasure with the story, Koenig is constantly on the verge of catastrophic rage, shouting and yelling at his subordinates like a maniac.  

Worse, his orders sometimes make no sense.  After Tony is injured by the rock, for instance, Koenig orders that no one go near, look at, or in any way interact with any rocks.  

Well, if they do that, how will they save Tony? How will they understand their environs? It’s a dumb order, and Landau should never have been put in the position of having to issue it.

Dr. Russell also comes across poorly here. She has to say the line “I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker,” which, of course, comes straight from the lexicon of Star Trek (1966-1969) and its notoriously cantankerous physician, Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley). So Helena is a sort of cut-rate “Bones” here, frustratingly.

So why did I give such a favorable review of “All that Glisters” in my book, Exploring Space: 1999 (1997)? And why do I still appreciate it?

There are two reasons, primarily.  

First, I admire the episode’s photography. Much of the episode takes place in a darkened Eagle laboratory pod, as Helena and the others deal with the strange nemesis in their midst.  These shots are beautifully-crafted, with dim illumination, and lights sometimes cast only on eyes, or faces.  

It’s stylish and smart in visual approach, and reminds me of black-and-white horror photography from Hollywood of the 1940s. The familiar technological setting is rendered almost “supernatural” in its creepy nature, and given that so much time is spent there, the episode also boasts a nice, claustrophobic feel.  There’s a real sense here of an inescapable trap.

Secondly, and perhaps more important than the episode’s stylish photography, I appreciate how “All that Glisters” fits into my “horror myth” thesis about Space: 1999 overall.  

Basically, that thesis states that Space: 1999 is actually a horror series, not a science-fiction one, with all the old universal fears translated to the technological space age. We have the horror of the premature burial, in “Earthbound,” for example.  We have the man with the Midas Touch, instantly freezing other humans on contact, in “Force of Life.”  Other stories are about wicked, evil children (“Alpha Child”) or dragons (“Dragon’s Domain.”)

This conceit continued into Year Two. “The Exiles” was “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” at least after a fashion, and this segment, “All that Glisters” is very clearly a technological, space-age update of the traditional zombie story.  

Today, we primarly associate zombies with George A. Romero and The Walking Dead (2010 - ).  They are dead creatures who feast on human flesh and typically transmit a plague to those bitten.  But if you go back in Hollywood history to films such as White Zombie (1932) or I Walked with a Zombie (1943), you can see the interpretation of that monster that “All that Glisters” adopts and re-processes for the space age.  

Basically, zombies, in those situations are shambling, dead (or mostly dead…) servants of sorcerers or other puppet masters.  The fear was of being made dead, and then a drone or slave to some horrible person and his agenda. 

Here, of course, the rocks destroy Tony’s consciousness and make him, operationally, a zombie: a creature without higher thought, but bound to their control.  

Again, there are some very good, atmospheric shots of Tony blank-faced, walking across the alien planet surface. He is lit from below (by the glow of the rocks), so that his vacant life-less face appears menacing and inhuman. 

My grounds for admiring “All that Glisters” come down to, essentially, the horror touches, and the accumulation of their impact. The dark laboratory is a haunted house setting, and quite claustrophobic, thus generating anxiety. And the rocks make zombies of the living, turning them into trudging, mindless automatons, in keeping with the series’ overall horror qualities.

I can see how the episode’s other factors are less than successful. Certainly, the silicon life form has been featured before, and in better shows, such as Trek’s “The Devil in the Dark,” but in fairness, “All that Glisters” also appears to be the influential basis of the ST:TNG episode “Home Soil.”

Finally, I do think it is nice, after all the horror on display in “All that Glisters,” that the Alphans show their humanity and help the rocks to survive.  

Not so much because I want Space: 1999 to emulate Star Trek’s universe of brotherhood and optimism among alien species, but because it’s a different type ending for the series, and therefore it feels fresh.  If the Alphans can help the rocks, it seems natural that they would do so.

Breakaway Day 2016: Space:1999 Year Two Novelizations

Breakaway Day 2016: "The Metamorph"

'In “The Metamorph,” Moonbase Alpha emerges from its second encounter with a space warp, six light years from its previous position. The lunar facility’s life support system needs repair, and requires the ore known as Titanium.

Titanium is pinpointed on the volcanic surface of a nearby planet, but an Eagle reconnaissance flight ends in terror when the ship is abducted by a strange green light.  Soon, Alpha is contacted by an alien from the planet, Mentor (Brian Blessed), who claims that the pilots are safe in his custody.

Mentor and Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) arrange an orbital rendezvous, but the plan is further treachery from Mentor.  He captures Koenig’s eagle and drags it down to the planet, called Psychon. 

There, in a subterranean city, Mentor lives with his daughter, Maya (Catherine Schell) whom he has taught the “priceless art of molecular transformation,” and operates a biological computer called Psyche which he hopes to use to restore the planet surface to its former tranquil self.

To do so, however, he must feed Psyche living minds.

The Alphans provide him a ready supply, though Koenig refuses to cooperate. Koenig hopes to convince Maya -- who doesn’t know of Psyche’s brain draining power -- that he needs her help.  But to do so, she must turn on her own father.

The first episode of Space: 1999 Year Two is colorful and bold, crisp and exciting. It also introduces a great regular character to the series: Maya of Psychon, played by Catherine Schell. 

I won’t mince words about Maya or her presence on the series.  I love her. 

I believe Maya is a great character, in part because she is allowed to be emotional as well as competent and brilliant.  After Mr. Spock, all resident aliens had to be stoic, it seems, but not Maya.  She was more like an imp, a good-humored, playful, highly emotional alien.

Like all her people, Maya is incredibly intelligent, with a mind that can run circles around the most high-powered computer. As a Psychon, she is, we are told in "Seed of Destruction," "hyper sensitive to all forms of living matter." Maya is also a pacifist, deploring the violence of the planet Earth when told of it in "Rules of Luton.”

"You mean, people killed people, just because they were different. That's disgusting!"

But Maya is also one tough cookie. She regularly transforms into frightening outer space creatures to stop the monster of the week in episodes such as "The Beta Cloud" and "The Bringers of Wonder." She stands up to the Commander when she believes he is wrong ("Seed of Destruction" again), and is just as comfortable flying an Eagle or running the science station in Command Center as she is in a party dress (“One Moment of Humanity.”)  

In just one season on Space: 1999, Maya did things that the other females in cult-TV history have regularly been denied the opportunity to do.  She piloted spaceships, engaged in fisticuffs, provided the analytical answer to the scientific challenge of the day, and also served as the mouth-piece for the “social gadfly” commentary about the human race. 

To many, she became a role model.

Consider, by 1991 and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s fourth season (and episodes such as “Q-Pid”) – and long after 1999 was canceled -- women characters were still locked in caretaker roles (Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi), and still knocking enemies out by smashing crockery over their heads. Unlike Maya, they rarely piloted space craft, or engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat.  Data got the science talk, and Data and Worf were the outsider commenters, leaving Troi to “sense” danger, and Crusher to mend broken bones.

"I never thought of Maya as a role model," Ms. Schell told me during our 1994 interview, "perhaps because in my life I have never been held back from doing something just because I am a woman. I'm thrilled that she is seen by many as I role model, but I didn't intend it that way. Perhaps because Maya was an alien, she was allowed to do more than 'human' women were at the time." 

Whatever the reasons for Maya’s full integration into the action, I remain grateful for it. I miss Barry Morse’s Victor and Prentis Hancock’s Paul Morrow in Space:1999 Year Two, but Maya’s presence adds so much to the season.

And as all fans of the series realize, there are some big differences visually, character-wise, and conceptually between Year One and Year Two.  Year One is awe-inspiring, scary and often wondrous.  By comparison, Year Two tends to be colorful, and action-packed, with more humor. Year One is lugubrious and ponderous, in a remarkable way.  Year Two is fast-paced and giddy.

I know fans divide on the issue of “which year is better.”  I prefer Year One, but I also enjoy Year Two, and feel that Maya, in particular, is a great addition to the series, in large part because of Catherine Schell’s portrayal.

And of all the Year Two style episodes - big on action, movement, and color – “The Metamorph” may just be the best.  It is big, brash, exciting, and pacey…all good qualities for a season premiere, no doubt.

Writer Johnny Byrne once told me, in an interview, how the change in formats occurred:

“During the interregnum between seasons, I wrote for Gerry Anderson.  I kept busy, but people involved with the production of Space: 1999 were very twitchy.  Everybody knew that the new producer, Freddie [Frieberger], was coming.  He sent over a tape of comments about the series, and after hearing his remarks, I understood a second season would be a whole new ball game.  I had been told I would be the story editor for the second year, but it was just a verbal agreement, and I understood it was no longer going to happen. I would continue to write episodes, but it was a very different situation.”

The shift in formats boils down to, at least in creative terms, the fact the Alphans become much more aggressive and in control over their destiny in Year Two.  This shift is apparent in “The Metamorph” from the fact that the base now has laser cannons positioned around its lunar perimeter, the equivalent of phaser banks.

Similarly, the Alphans have developed “Directive 4,” a coded order which means that a dangerous planet (in this case, Psychon) is to be destroyed.  In Year One, Alpha did possess nuclear charges and space mines (which it utilized in stories such as “Space Brain” and “Collision Course”) but the Alphans did not have the potential for Death Star-level destruction.

What does this shift mean, in terms of storytelling? 

Well, in Year Two the Alphans operate not from a place of not-knowing about outer space, but from a position of being able to defend themselves, and hold their own against all comers.  One can argue for the dramatic validity of such a change, and indeed, in some senses it is logical.  The Alphans would be more prepared and defensive over time, given the nature of their odyssey.  But by the same token, these changes are not explained in “The Metamorph,” or phased in “in universe.  Year Two begins, and everything just seems different. 

That jarring change may actually be the reason so many fans have difficulty with Year Two as opposed to Year One. It’s not that the changes are wrong-headed, so much, as they are aren’t accounted for gradually, or in terms of the characters’ actual experiences or history. 

“It comes down to this,” Byrne told me. “The things that people to do prevent disaster are invariably what lead them to disaster.  That’s the essence of Greek tragedy.  We’ve all heard that man proposes and God disposes.  That’s the theme of many Year One stories. That was lost to some extent in Year Two, although I know we both think it was also a valuable season.”

Byrne also pinpointed for me another concern, one much more having to do with a production crunch than any shift in concept.  “The problem was that in Year Two our scripts were no longer consecutive, feeding into each other naturally, one after the next. Instead, there was broad commissioning of about twenty at once, and I think that led to a feeling of reduced momentum.  But without Freddie, there would not have been an additional season of Space: 1999.  I think I need to be clear about that.  It was valuable to have those twenty-four additional shows, even if I would have preferred a different direction.”

I agree with Byrne completely on this subject.  I am grateful to have Space:1999 Year Two and feel that many episodes, especially those at the start (“The Metamorph,” “The Exiles,” “Journey to Where”) and at the finish  (“The Séance Spectre,” “The Immunity Syndrome,” and “The Dorcons”) were good shows. 

“The Metamorph” remains tops in the revised format, though, and I remember watching it with Johnny at the Main Mission Convention in New York in 2000.  We saw there, much in terms of  both virtue and potential.

“I wrote the premiere episode, “The Metamorph,” and it introduced the character of Maya, the shape-shifter played by Catherine Schell,” he told me in our interview.  “She wasn’t in my original script, which was called “The Biological Soul” and then “The Biological Computer.”  But I saw the episode just recently in New York, and it looked absolutely wonderful.  It was fast-paced, smart, interesting and I liked what was left of my main character, Mentor…that idea of flawed genius.

Byrne tallied up so many good points there. Indeed “The Metamorph” moves with such confidence and purpose, that watching it, one feels like the series revamp could have been a remarkable thing.  The same atmosphere carries over to “The Exiles,” in my opinion.  After that, however, the feeling of quality starts to slip, and the production rush takes over, producing some slipshod episodes.  It’s not that the writing in particular gets worse in Year Two, it’s that there’s the feeling that corners are being cut, and the series creator are constantly battling not to fall behind, instead of battling to produce great new stories in this format, of which “The Metamorph” is absolutely one.

What makes it so good?  

For one thing, the Alphans reach out in "The Metamorph." 

Despite the fact that they have been betrayed and disappointed by aliens in the past, Koenig reaches to Maya, and makes a friend in the process.  

And Maya, to her credit, realizes in "The Metamorph" that there are some virtues greater, even, than family.  When she discovers the truth of Mentor's sadism and evil, she doesn't rally loyally (and mindlessly) to her father.  Instead, she attempts to redress a wrong he has committed.  It's not an easy choice for her, yet Maya does what is right, not what is easy.  This makes her a hero.

The episode's closing scene in the Eagle, with Koenig telling Maya that "we are all aliens, until we get to know each other," is an indicator that the Alphans are still human, still willing to extend a hand of friendship. Koenig and Helena want to help Maya, despite the fact that Mentor has been their enemy.  They don't let her former allegiance color their perception of her, and on the contrary, realize how much she has given up for them.

The episode also works in terms of Koenig's character, showcasing the isolation of his position.  He is forced to make a terrible choice in "The Metamorph:" give up his people on Psychon, or watch Alpha be obliterated.  

He attempts to turn the tables on Mentor, but for a time, his people, including Carter (Nick Tate) believe he is a coward.  He silently carries that shame, rather than expose his plan to stop Mentor.

"The Metamorph" is also very exciting, from the sequence with Koenig's eagle experiencing terrible G-forces in flight, to the final confrontation in which Maya goes crazy, transforming from animal to another animal in a desperate bid to save her father from a fire.  

Most importantly, "The Metamorph" sets the stage for Maya's place on Alpha.  She begins the episode asking her father, Mentor, if she would make a good Alphan.  She ends the story with Koenig and Helena re-assuring her that there's a place for her there.

Although fans will always have their preferences regarding Year One and Year Two, I would nonetheless declare that Maya and Catherine Schell helped to make Space:1999 Year Two exciting and memorable,  "The Metamorph" is an example of a success story in Year Two, and a demonstration of the revised format's potential.

Breakaway Day 2016: Space:1999 Year Two Introduction

After its first season, big changes were in the offing for Gerry Anderson's space epic, Space:1999 (1975 - 1977). 

Fred Freiberger, late of Star Trek's third season, came aboard the series as producer, and ushered in a regime of dramatic re-vamps and re-thinks. To this day, those changes remain the source of great controversy. 

Most importantly, Year Two of Space:1999 was to offer an enhanced sense of pace and "humanity." Action and color were thus the order of the day, and those two qualities are the ones most dramatically reflected in the season's introductory montage, featured for this installment of  Outré Intro.

As the montage commences, we see two brightly-colored planets looming in space, moving towards us, even while a cluster of stars is visible in the frame's lower quadrant. 

Notably, the alien worlds are bright and colorful in contrasting ways, blue and pink. The color enhances their strange-ness, but also suggests the visual dynamism that Freiberger sought in the re-tooled series. The white-on-white trademark minimalism of Year One was to be a thing of the past.

Next, a space age "teletype" spells out the premise of Space:1999, beginning with the location of a planetary disaster.  

We see an Eagle fly over Moonbase Alpha, and then we learn of the catastrophic specifics of the disaster. 

A "massive nuclear explosion" has occurred, the moon is "torn out of Earth's orbit" and the natural satellite is "hurled into outer space."

Note that all these images -- accompanied by Derek Wadsworth's (1939 - 2008) exciting, driving new theme -- expressly feature movement.  We see an  Eagle fly towards the camera. We see a bundling of colorful, expanding explosions. aAd then we see the Moon moving from its orbit, into what appears to be a coruscating space warp or vortex.

All these images suggest motion, and accelerating action. Similarly, the brevity of the teletype "message" suggests not only an emergency transmission, perhaps from Alpha itself, regarding the catastrophe, but the new season's intended sense of crisp clarity.

The camera keeps moving in the next image.

We pan quickly across a row of high-tech computers, and the words "RED ALERT" (in all caps) flash dynamically, super-imposed over the space age equipment. This image again stresses movement (the camera pan), color (the flashing words), and the sense of adventurous urgency.

The impressions is that we are in the midst of an emergency, with no time to stop, and excitement is building.

Next, we meet our cast, and once more, they are introduced in action-packed poses.  

Martin Landau, playing Commander Koenig, spins around in his seat in Command Center, whirls around, stands-up, and fires his laser. 

Secondly, we meet Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain), walking urgently through a Moonbase corridor, after leaving the Life Support Unit.

If you contrast these views of the lead actors with their Year One montage "static" poses, the difference in approaches is all the more apparent.  The Year Two meme, once more, is action and color.

These qualities are further high-lighted with the title card that practically lunges onto the screen, right to left. 

This is (the new) Space:1999.

The next order of business for the montage is adding a new and unusual character, Maya the metamorph. 

We move in on Maya's eyeball, and see the different animals she can turn into, including a dog, a bird and a tiger. 

Next we see Maya in her humanoid form, and get the title card introducing Catherine Schell.

These images, while rapid-fire and action-packed, are there primarily to convey crucial information about Maya so that her nature and capabilities can be understood before the audience even begins to watch an episode.  

This part of the intro thus sells a character concept. Incidentally, it was the concept of Maya -- a shape-shifter -- that got the series renewed for a second year.

Finally, we get Gerry Anderson's title card, next to a shoot of a slowly-spinning moon, home base for the series.  After all the action, all the movement and all the color, we close with a view of sanctuary, safety, and, essentially family.  The moon is home.

Although I like and enjoy Year Two (and especially Catherine Schell's portrayal of Maya) very much, I have always preferred the more philosophical, more thoughtful Year One of Space: 1999.  

Yet even with that bias in mind, it is indeed impressive how adeptly (and quickly...) this Year Two introductory montage "sells" the series in its new format.  

The exciting music, the colorful visuals, and the near-constant motion -- as well as the surreal ingenuity of the Maya "eyeball" imagery -- really express the nature of Space: 1999 Year Two well. The montage says, in essence, space just got a whole lot more exciting, and dynamic.

Impressively, the montage manages to present the mood, the set-up, and the new character of Maya in just under 45 seconds.  Love or hate Year Two, the imagery is effective.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Breakaway Day 2016: "Dragon's Domain"

 “Dragon’s Domain” is the Space: 1999 episode that casual watchers seem to most often remember from this Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series. It’s easy to understand why. We get to learn more about the main characters’ history on Earth (before “Breakaway”) and more importantly, the episode concerns…a monster.  

And one hell of a memorable monster at that.

“Dragon’s Domain” is the story, in part, of the Ultra Probe, an Earth vessel captained by Tony Cellini (Gianni Giarko). 

The story is told in flashback by Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain), and we learn how Cellini’s ship – in 1996 -- encounters a grave yard of spaceships in orbit around the planet Ultra, and then loses his crew to a devouring, one-eyed monstrosity: a tentacled spider/dragon-type alien. 

Now traveling through a different area of space all together, the isolated Moonbase Alpha encounters the same space grave yard, and the same monster…thus validating Cellini’s “crazy” story.

On first blush, this Space: 1999 episode probably doesn’t sound far different from many familiar space “monster” stories of the cinema or pulp magazines, yet the presentation and implications of “Dragon’s Domain” have captured my imagination for nearly forty years now. 

In particular, I’ll never forget sitting on the sofa in my basement family room with my parents and watching on TV as the space monster -- the dragon -- wrapped his dark tentacles around helpless astronauts, male and female, and then drove them into his glowing orange maw. 

If this act of “feeding” wasn’t horrifying enough, then the very next moment surely fit the bill. The steaming skeletons of the dead were spewed out onto the spaceship deck…human flesh (and internal organs...) totally consumed.

This was my first real experience with something so…horrific. I was a huge fan, even as a child, of King Kong and Godzilla, but this kind of death was something different. It felt more personal, somehow.  

The “Dragon’s Domain” monster had no noble of sympathetic qualities, and didn’t exist, seemingly, on a different scale…towering above us like a dinosaur. Instead, it was inescapable, hungry, and something that could occupy the same room as any unlucky human soul. It seemed more immediate a threat, more real, and less fanciful than the other monsters I loved, somehow.

Thus I suspect that “Dragon’s Domain” is the very story that ignited my fascination with horror films, and with the powerful idea of mixing hard sci-fi tech (like spaceships and control rooms) with something more Gothic, or perhaps even Lovecraft-ian. Before Alien (1979), Event Horizon (1997) or Pandorum (2009) caught my eye, “Dragon’s Domain” sparked my curiosity about the darkest corners of the cosmos. 

What might await us out there, in the dark?

But “Dragon’s Domain” fascinated me for other reasons too, as a kid.  

At that point, I had also been raised on stories such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Robinson Crusoe, and even Moby Dick.  “Dragon’s Domain,” with its squid-like monster, man alone on a life boat, and central mission of vengeance (on the part of Cellini) tied in directly with these beloved literary tales and translated critical story elements, again, to the final frontier.  

There’s something downright mythic about this tale, and even the teleplay acknowledges it, comparing Tony and his “monster” to St. George and the Dragon.

At five going on six, it probably goes without saying that I was really scared by “Dragon’s Domain.” 

Yet I was equally tantalized by the things that went unspoken in the episode.  

The “monster” didn’t register on any Alphan scanning devices, for instance, which meant that these 20th century, technological men couldn’t really determine if it was truly dead at adventure’s end, a nice Twilight Zone twist to close out the hour. This open-ended question tantalized me for weeks and months (and years and decades…). 

Could something exist out there in space that is so different from us that it doesn’t even register on our equipment?  That lives and dies by physical laws we can’t comprehend?

Even more intriguingly, the episode concerned that space grave yard. Once more, there were a hundred untold stories there; stories of space-farers who had come to that unpleasant and inexplicable end.  But where had they traveled from?  Who were they?  We might even ask the same questions of Ultra.  

Was the monster from that world, or did the grave yard appear in orbit by coincidence?  What was the surface of that planet like?  Who lived there?  Had they too, been devoured by the dragon?

And speaking of coincidence, how could the space grave yard travel from Ultra to Alpha’s position between galaxies? Was the monster somehow guiding its “web” to…follow Tony?  

All these unanswered questions swirled in my mind, and my response at the time was to “make pretend” further 1999 adventures (with my Mattel Eagle…) that addressed some of these points. 

It was this impulse to understand and continue the story that I credit with my decision, finally, to become a writer.

“Dragon’s Domain” was so tantalizing a mystery, so engaging a tale, so psychologically intricate, that this episode of Space: 1999 evoked the creative, artistic impulse in me, even at six. One of these days, I must remember to thank Christopher Penfold.  Or perhaps I just did.

But as a kid, I wanted more; more stories that were open-ended, that offered hints -- but not clear-cut answers -- about the universe  This is the very thing that continues to draw me to Space: 1999, and to works of art like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012).   

In works such as these, there’s the tantalizing opportunity to go deep, to explore possibilities and ideas not spelled out or spoon-fed.  I don't consider a lack of explanation cause for nitpicking as so many fans do.  

On the contrary, I look at it as gateway to engagement.  In fact, I now consider this quality a necessary pre-requisite for great art: room for interpretation, based on the hard evidence of a text’s words, and of its visual symbolism.   

How boring it is to be told everything of import, or to be led on a leash to just one answer, when a filmmaker can, instead, only hint or whisper life's little verities to us.

The idea of this kind of exploration hooked me at age five, and has kept a hold of me -- like a dragon’s tentacle -- ever since.