Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Tholian Web" (November 15, 1968)

Stardate 5793.2

In response to the disappearance of the U.S.S. Defiant, the Enterprise moves into a dangerous region of space to locate it.  There, in a period of “interphase,” two universes overlap.  The Defiant is disappearing into that mysterious universe, and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) -- who becomes trapped on the ship -- is doing so as well.

The area of interphase also causes madness and violence in humans aboard starships, and it begins to have a dangerous influence on the Enterprise crew, as Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) takes command, and attempts to rescue the missing Kirk.

Making matters worse, the territorial Tholians arrive, and claim this turbulent region of space for the Tholian Assembly. Commander Loskene threatens the Enterprise, but Spock knows the Enterprise cannot leave the area without risking the loss of Captain Kirk. 

In response, the Tholians begin to create a space web to trap the Enterprise.

Spock and Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley) bicker over the situation, until they watch Captain Kirk’s last recorded orders, and begin working together -- and racing against time -- to escape the Tholians, save the Enterprise, and rescue their captain.

“The Tholian Web” is, without a doubt, one of the best episodes of Star Trek (1966-1969) from its third season. 

The episode is worthwhile for a number of reasons, but in the final analysis it is succeeds as a wonderful exploration of the central “triumvirate” (Kirk-Spock-McCoy), and the events that happen when one person is subtracted from that close-knit triangle.

Here, McCoy and Spock bicker through their grief, since Kirk may be dead, and eye each other suspiciously. It is clear that without Kirk's presence to temper their extreme viewpoints, these two points on the triangle teeter on the edge of outright warfare. 

McCoy states that he would like to “remedy” the situation, removing Spock from command, for example.  The interaction between these characters is not playful. It’s not gentle. It is not tempered by feelings of affection. 

Rather, McCoy and Spock are clearly at each other’s throats throughout the action here.  The logical conclusion is that what binds them together is their friendship and support for Captain Kirk, not necessarily their regard (or respect) for each other.

Kirk’s last orders (well-played by Shatner) get these two men, these two Starfleet officers, back on track. Kirk’s tape refocuses Bones and Spock away from their struggle, and back to the one thing that matters more than anything else to Kirk: the safety of the Enterprise. 

This seems a crucial episode for the heroic triangle for a few reasons. It clearly represents an opportunity for growth, and one that the franchise seizes on.

At the end of the episode, Spock and McCoy share a “lie” to their captain. He asks if they watched his final orders. They lie, and say that there was not time to view Kirk's video will during the crisis.  

Think about what that means for just a moment. 

You don’t share a lie with someone you don’t trust, or don’t like. That Spock and McCoy join together to spin this untruth to their captain, friend, and superior officer suggests that they have attained a new plateau of trust or comfort with one another. Despite everything that Spock and McCoy went through, they have found a way to work together, to co-exist, in “The Tholian Web,” without the peace-maker presence of Kirk.  

That’s a big deal, and a big step for their friendship.

We have seen in previous Spock/McCoy moments (in episodes such as “The Trouble with Tribbles,” “The Immunity Syndrome” and “Bread of Circuses”) that when left alone together, away from Jim's presence, these two officers battle. 

They snipe. 

They zing each other with harsh witticisms.  

Here, they get past that stage, for the first time, and so one might make the argument that “The Tholian Web” represents an important aspect of the Spock/McCoy friendship. Eventually, McCoy will tell Spock that he “never ceases” to amaze him (Star Trek V: The final Frontier [1989]) but that’s a sentiment that it is difficult to imagine Bones voicing in the trenches of the first, second, or early third season of Star Trek.  

One must wonder if losing Jim, and facing this crisis together, forged a connection between the two men that built the friendship we saw by the time of the motion pictures.

I will state this another way, one more in keeping with concepts of the episode. From a certain perspective, "The Tholian Web" is about putting aside the "ghost" of Captain Kirk. 

Crew members keep seeing the missing captain and McCoy wonders if this is so because the officers have lost faith in Spock.  But McCoy feels guilty about giving his loyalty to a new captain. and Spock feels guilty and responsible, as well, for what has occurred to Kirk.

Then, Spock and McCoy exercise that "ghost" -- that haunting spirit -- by conducting a funeral service of sorts; by watching his last will. 

It's as if, in their minds, following this viewing, Kirk can finally rest. His last orders have been issued, and Spock and McCoy can move forward to the next step. That next step, in this case, actually involves his rescue.  But they had to move past "the ghost" of Captain Kirk that was paralyzing them, that was locking them in their cycle of grief and anger.

The question, of course, arises: why lie to Captain Kirk during the episode's final scene? His last orders proved incredibly helpful to Spock and Bones. Why shouldn’t he know this?  

Here again, Spock and McCoy have realized they have something in common. They don’t want to appear weak before their captain. They would rather lie -- putting aside their differences in the process -- than acknowledge that they were lost without him, and that his guidance was very much needed.

Beyond this examination of the triumvirate, and particularly Spock and McCoy, “The Tholian Web” is notable for adding a fascinating new, non-humanoid (non-mammalian…) alien race to the catalog: the Tholians.  

Tholians are (apparently) crystalline in nature, known to be punctual, and evidence a technology far different from the other races we have met so far in the Alpha Quadrant (Romulan, Klingon, Gorn). 

They spin their “webs” around enemy starships, and their (Emmy-Award nominated) space toils make for dynamic and unforgettable visuals. 

In a very real sense, Spock is “trapped” in a web in this episode. He must battle the crew, rescue the captain, defeat the interphase insanity (as it applies to the Enterprise crew), negotiate with an alien race, and keep his feelings of loss and grief in check. This is a tangled web, indeed, and it’s rewarding how "The Tholian Web" also gives him a literal (energy) web to navigate.

The Tholians would return to Star Trek (at least in passing), in the second season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994): “The Icarus Factor.”  And the U.S.S. Defiant, would also come back to haunt canon, appearing in the two part Enterprise (2001-2005) episode “In a Mirror, Darkly.”

“The Tholian Web” is notable as well for granting audiences a first look at Starfleet space suits, which are very distinctive (and form fitting...), as well as Uhura’s quarters. 

In fact, Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura has a good, supporting role in this episode; one that showcases her humanity (and loyalty) well. Nyota’s colorful, distinctive quarters go a long way towards the same goal, reminding us of the character's individuality. After the first season, we rarely get to see Uhura during off-duty hours, so those moments here help make the episode a special and memorable one.

In short, "The Tholian Web" features great character moments for Spock, McCoy, and Uhura, introduces memorable new aliens and equipment, and dramatizes an emotional story of Kirk's "ghost" wherein form reflects (emotional) content. It is an episode that hits on all thrusters, as Bones might say.

Next week, however, things take a turn for the worse with “Plato’s Stepchildren.”

The Films of 2017: Alien: Covenant

[Many spoilers are included in the following review. Please proceed accordingly.]

As an early, consistent, and vocal supporter of Prometheus (2012), I can only assess Ridley Scott’s follow-up, Alien: Covenant (2017) as an intriguing but ultimately uninspiring affair. 

The sequel is intriguing primarily because Scott brings his trademark intellect to the tale, giving audiences a new and worthwhile musing on the nature of God(s) and men, or, rather, parents and children.

Yet Alien: Covenant is uninspiring too, because the quest for ultimate truth or knowledge that was so important to Prometheus (2012) has been replaced with a torrent of easy answers. The movie’s modus operandi is to fill in all the “gaps” between Prometheus and Alien (1979), and, at least for this reviewer, that’s a dispiriting and ultimately self-defeating approach for a franchise that prides itself on exploring the unknown.

The easy answers presented by Alien: Covenant don’t really satisfy, and in some way they actually foreclose on the sense of majesty and mystery that has characterized the Alien franchise for decades.

The issue here is that it is inherently better to search, or to explore, than to provide easy answers.  

Prometheus was all about raising questions.It raised interrogatives about the Engineers, the xenomorphs, mankind’s beginnings, and even, finally mankind’s future. I am well aware that many fans actively disliked the film, and yet Prometheus was a bold, even drastic step in a new direction; one which opened up the possibilities of the Alien universe in magnificent, literary, and imaginative ways.

After so many years of largely unsatisfactory re-hashes, it was a breath of fresh air, and the re-assertion of the franchise’s possibilities and scope.

By contrast, Covenant is a relatively routine Frankenstein story (a mode, yes, which was certainly implied by the title, Prometheus). The sequel exists simply to tie everything together into a neat bundle. The result is a film that, I believe, fails to spark the imagination -- to inspire -- the way that Prometheus so abundantly did.

I do not write off Alien: Covenant as a total failure, however.

Scott has crafted a film here of some remarkable depth, especially in its first half, even while retreating to familiar franchise tropes in the last half. All the Alien films must strike a unique note so as not to be seen as a rip-off of previous entries, and in truth, Covenant possesses its own unique vibe, which I’ll attempt to explore below.

I describe this vibe as, well, sinister.

We have seen evil before in the Alien universe, of course.

Sometimes that evil has been brought forward by man (Burke in Aliens 1986]), sometimes by machine (Ash in Alien [1979]) and sometimes by nature itself; the “hostile” biological instincts of the titular xenomorphs.

But there is no other film -- at least yet -- in the Alien saga that plunges so overwhelmingly into the darkness, into sinister agendas and horrific, hellish sights. 

Even Ripley’s death in Alien3 (1992), by contrast, served a pro-social or humane purpose. 

In Alien: Covenant, an overwhelming diabolism seems to permeat the picture, in keeping with David’s Milton-ian line of dialogue that it is better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.  

This sinister quality makes the film feel both oppressive and portentous - which is, admittedly, not a bad note for the middle piece of a trilogy to strike -- but the grim atmosphere does not make the film scary, or inspire speculation and interest.

In addition to this caustic, ironic, diabolical tone, Alien: Covenant merits consideration for David’s story arc, and the way David’s story of parents/children continues some of the thematic groundwork laid down by Prometheus five years ago

I know that folks read movie reviews for a critic’s assessment, a binary yes/no, thumbs-up/thumbs-down judgment. If you’re at this blog, reading this review, you already know I rarely tread into that territory of absolutes. How you ultimately come to feel about Alien: Covenant could rely on a lot of different things. 

How did you feel about Prometheus? What do you seek from an Alien film? And so on.

At this juncture, I can judge the film well-made, well-performed, and disturbing on a psychic and visceral level, even though there is no set-piece here that compares favorably with Shaw’s on-the-spot surgery in Prometheus. 

Also, I can detect the “dark” intelligence lurking behind Alien: Covenant, but, I suppose, finally, that I wish that intellect had been directed more fully towards a story that furthered the mysteries of the Alien-verse rather than limiting them.

“Serve in Heaven, or reign in Hell?”

In 2104, the colony ship Covenant carries 2000 humans in hyper-sleep, and voyages to distant Origae 6, which needs to be terra-formed to be fully livable.

A random neutrino burst from a nearby star, however, damages the ship, and kills the ship’s captain (James Franco) in cryo-sleep, leaving his wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterstone) bereft and questioning life.  While on a space-walk repairing the solar sail apparatus, Covenant’s pilot and technician Tennessee (Danny McBride) intercepts a signal in space which seems to originate from a human being.

The Covenant’s new captain, a “man of faith” named Oram (Billy Crudup) orders a change in course to the signal’s point of origin, a mysterious habitable planet in its system’s Goldilocks Zone. In fact, Oram wants to scrap all the carefully made plans for Origae 6 and settle on this newly discovered world instead. Daniels feel it is too much a risk, but has no choice but to go alone.

The Covenant sends a lander down to the planet, but almost immediately, the excursion goes terribly wrong. Members of the reconnaissance team are infected by strange black spores, and impregnated by parasite neo-morphs, which burst from their bodies in horrific, bloody fashion.

The survivors are rescued by a stranger, an android named David (Fassbender), who seems an (almost) perfect match for Covenant’s synthetic man, Walter (Foster).

But David hides a dark secret about the source of the message that brought the Covenant to him, and the fate of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), of the Prometheus mission.

Furthermore, secrets, horrors and monsters abound in David’s new home, a necropolis that once served as home to the Engineers.

“One wrong note eventually ruins the entire symphony.”

There is so much worthwhile to praise in Alien: Covenant in terms of theme and atmosphere. I wrote in my introduction about the sinister, diabolical irony of the film. This caustic application of malevolent destiny infuses the picture with meaning, in many ways. Some might term this malevolent feeling “nihilism,” the “rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.”

That definition doesn’t totally apply, however.

There is, in David’s story (and agenda), a rejection of religious and moral principles, certainly. But David makes it plain, through his words and deeds that life that to him is not meaningless. Rather, the purpose of his life is to create new life, and destroy his makers, the human race. His purpose is to make the universe a Hell, one in which he reigns supreme.

Consider, for example, what David does to Elizabeth Shaw. After he kills her, he utilizes her body to create his children: the aliens. Elizabeth’s fate is horrible enough to consider on its own, but when one remembers the details of Prometheus, it is even worse.

Elizabeth’s search for the Engineers arose, in part, from her inability to create life herself. She was infertile, and therefore deprived of a biological capacity that she believed gave human life purpose. Yet in her death, David has, ironically, “gifted” Elizabeth with this capacity. In a biological sense, she is now the mother to the xenomorphs. From a certain sense, her dream has come true.

Of course, Elizabeth would not desire such a destiny; it is a twisted, dark realization of her dream. And the operative word there is clearly “dark.”

Captain Oram, a “man of faith” is similarly treated in a sinister fashion. He feels victimized by his crew-mates because so few people share his Christian beliefs. And as captain, he makes a difficult choice, believing that the Covenant’s discovery of Shaw’s signal and the Engineer world signal a form of “providence.” It is a sign, that he should lead his people to this new promised land. Oram feels validated in his faith, which has brought him to this junction, to this decision.

Of course, he has been lured to the planet by a devil of sorts, in David, not by divine intervention. 

And David is responsible not only for the death of his wife, but for Oram's death too. Oram becomes the first human being in history (at least in-universe) to be implanted by a face hugger. His faith has led him not to a promised land, but to Pandemonium.

The film is filled with such examples of diabolism. David has, for his own reasons (perhaps the murder of his father, Weyland), committed genocide against the Engineers. 

We see a scene (in flashback) in Alien: Covenant of apparently-peaceful Engineer citizens destroyed in a WMD-style attack. Their own bio-weapon (the black goo, for lack of a better description), annihilates them.  Again, we have seen death before in the Alien films, but not on a scale such as this. A whole population is wiped out, horribly.

And then, of course, the film ends with an Evil force literally driving the ship. David has tricked Daniels into believing that he is Walter, his more benevolent sibling. She goes into cryo-sleep helpless and defenseless, with the devil tending to her slumber. 

And remember, David has already made his intent towards Daniels plain. When she asks, in the necropolis, what David intends to do with her, he replies that she will suffer the same fate as Shaw did. Our Ripley-in-training here is clearly a goner.

And still, the story is even darker, yet. 

Now facing no opposition, David is in total control of Covenant and its cargo. He has 2,000 sleeping human beings to experiment with, not to mention a cargo-hold filled with human embryos. His ability to play Frankenstein, to “hone” the shape and form of his children, the aliens, is now magnified geometrically.

The Alien saga has always been dark, always been frightening. But before this film, there has always been hope. Even in the third Alien film, Ripley’s sacrifice meant something. It preserved the future of the human race. 

Here, there is no hope to be felt. David is in control of the surviving heroes (Daniels and Tennessee), and all the raw ingredients necessary to make our universe his particular nightmare.

This oppressive, dark turn is effective, as I’ve noted, if one considers this film the middle-part of a trilogy. This movie is the equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back (1980), in other words, the point in which good is defeated, and the stakes are the highest they’ve ever been. If taken on those terms, the darkness makes dramatic, artistic sense.

Equally intriguing is the overall theme behind this level of darkness, which involves Gods and men, parents and children. Consider that “God” (if there is such a being) created the Engineers. The Engineers then created man. Man created David. And now, David creates the aliens. 

These movies are thus about the act of creation, and furthermore, the way that parents and children deal with resentment through rebellion. 

The Engineers attempt to kill man, their child, in Prometheus.

And mankind, in the person of Weyland, makes his child, David, a slave, a servant or a product; a thing, but not a “son.”  

David’s act of rebellion against his God (mankind) is to create his perfect children, the aliens. He is a fallen angel, like Satan, surrounding himself with an army of demons by which to mount an assault on the heavens, if not heaven itself.

Of course, the question for the next movie is simple: how will the aliens rebel against their father (David)?  It could be by creating a hive-mind, taking ownership of their own biology (through the birth of a queen), and so on.

The covenant of the film’s title might be interpreted in many illuminating ways. A covenant is generally considered to be a pledge, a promise, or contract. Many scholars define a covenant specifically as a contract between man and God. 

What we have in this film, then, is the breaking or destruction of a covenant. Yet David -- our antagonist -- is not actually the party who breaks the contract, one might conclude. Rather, he is the injured party, upset about the shattering of the covenant; upset at the betrayal by God. In this case, it was his father, Weyland, who broke the contract. He made his child only a "thing," not a person to be loved.

The film also references Ozymandias (1818) a poem by Shelley that David mis-attributes to Byron, until corrected by Walter. Ozymandias concerns the impermanence of empires, and the (futile) quest for a legacy. 

If nothing is permanent, what is left of us once we depart this mortal coil?

Weyland believed that his legacy could be immortality. That’s why he sought out the Engineers. Importantly, he did not view David as his legacy. 

Similarly, the Engineers appear to view humans, their creation, as monsters and competitors, not children. 

The outstanding question is: how does David view the aliens? Are they to be his legacy, and if so, what do they represent?

My answer? They represent his righteous hatred. 

The aliens in their simplicity and purity make a mockery out of our own reproductive cycle, and view humans not as beings with a divine spark, but as “meat” to be re-shaped in the service of other life-forms. 

I do wonder, however, how David -- a being who appreciates art and music -- could conceive of “perfection” in these aliens. They have no such calling to civilization, or art. They have no higher reasoning skills. He has made his children, essentially, emotionally empty.

All of this text and subtext is here to be enjoyed and admired in Alien: Covenant, and so the film will merit many re-visits in the years and decades to come. I look forward to seeing it again.

And yet, I am gravely disappointed with the fact that the film re-parses the origin of the xenomorphs. 

They are no longer from “out there” (the product of an alien intelligence), but explicitly created by David, in the year 2104.  I am not upset that this development essentially un-writes the AVP movies (which feature aliens on Earth in the year 2004) or the connections to the Predator universe. I am, however, disappointed that a franchise titled “alien” has decided to explain so much, and made the explanations so, well, earth bound.

One of the most amazing facets of Alien was the terrifying feeling that the crew of the Nostromo was reckoning with something beyond human experience, beyond human history, beyond human morality, and beyond human origin.  The xenomorph was born of something, well, different.  It was so “alien,” in fact, that it couldn’t be understood, or even killed.

Now, we understand that humanity was intimately involved in the creation of the xenomorphs. It is human parenting, actually, that is responsible for their shape and nature. 

It was very different to learn of the Engineers (another alien race) and their role in creating humanity in Prometheus. There were still so many unanswered questions there.

But Alien: Covenant reveals that the xenomorphs are the revenge plot of a rejected child, in essence. This disappointing and totally unnecessary explanation changes the nature of the franchise immeasurable. 

And I don’t believe it is a good change.

I liken it to the development of the Michael Myers character in the Halloween franchise. Originally, he was the “Shape,” an impenetrable figure on a rampage in his home town, Haddownfield. Was he a serial killer? A developmentally-arrested individual playing “trick or treat” with life and death? Or was he, actually, the boogeyman?  The ideas were all terrifying, and there was evidence to support each approach. But then, in the second movie, we learned that Michael was out to kill all surviving family members, and that explanation limited his terror somewhat. The explanation made his evil seem mundane.

Alien: Covenant diminishes the horror of the franchise in the exact same way.  The more we know and understand about the xenomorphs, the less terrifying they become. 

Familiarity breeds contempt. At least in terms of horror.

The most terrifying (and successful) elements of Alien: Covenant, not coincidentally, involve the neomorphs. They are things we have not quite seen before. They are new and mysterious, and therefore scary.

I do not mean to suggest that David’s story is unworthy, or uninteresting, but rather that the back-story of the xenomorph creation removes a wonderful and scintillating aspect of mystery from the entire saga.

I suppose we live in a time that demands easy answers, and spoon-feeding. Some critics have even seen Covenant as an under-the-cover tale of how Hollywood directors must make Frankenstein monsters out of their own creations if they wish to tell an original story in these times of “shared universes” and “franchises.” That's a clever reading of the film, but not one I am entirely certain I subscribe to.

I am grateful, however, that an artist as clever and intellectually curious as Ridley Scott retains the reins of this franchise.  I think he moves it in the wrong direction here. But he moves in the wrong direction...in the most beautifully and thoughtful manner possible.

I but can’t help but feel, at this juncture, that Scott's take on Prometheus was the right one. I would have liked to see a sequel wherein David and Shaw go off to discover more about the engineers. Instead we get a sequel in which we learn more about the aliens. Too much about the aliens, for my taste.

This is a story that we don’t need to see, no matter how well-shot or well-acted. 

Mysteries are such wondrous and fragile things. They spawn speculation, art, writing, and more. The reductive nature of Alien: Covenant achieves the opposite end 

By giving us too much information about the xenomorph genesis, this 2017 film risks “spoiling” the whole symphony.

Movie Trailer: Alien: Covenant (2017)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ask JKM a Question: Slouching Towards Bethlehem?

A reader and fellow blogger named David writes:

“I’m a blogger too, so don't lie to me.  I know that you have probably thought about this. You've been at this a long time.

A lot of bloggers compose a final post while they are still writing their blogs.

So my question is: have you composed your last post even in your head if not on the screen, and if so what are the contents of it?”

David, are you trying to get rid of me?

Seriously, I agree that all bloggers think about “the end,” even if fleetingly, at one point or another during the lifetime of a blog.   

Sometimes, their blog has lived a very long time, and the author has simply had the opportunity to say everything he or she wanted to say.

Sometimes they write that final post because they are tired or frustrated. 

Sometimes they write it because a better opportunity has come up, somewhere else. 

Sometimes they write such a post for the sake of posterity, I suppose.

Usually, as I said, however, that thought is fleeting.  

But there is something, perhaps, in the very nature of blogging that makes a writer want to have the last word, and grant the ongoing journal some sense of closure…like finishing a (really long...) book, for example. 

I really hate going to a blog I love and seeing that it just withered on the vine, that posts just stopped coming for no apparent reason. 

I always wonder: what happened?  

Is the blogger still with us? What made him or her give up writing?  

Too many really fine blogs have ended in that fashion.

So I do feel that closure is important for both the writer and reader. I am grateful for all the great bloggers I have read over the years who decided to compose that final post, and tell us that they were moving on.

If and when I stop blogging, I know this: I’ll be closer to my destination -- whatever that destination happens to be -- and I’ll be a different person/writer/blogger than I am today, right now.  

So, my final blog post will come at the end of the blog, and hopefully reflect the journey that I have taken, in its last steps.  

Writing it now wouldn't reflect or be true to the journey I described.

So I can tell you, definitively, I haven't written a final post.

Things could always change for me (like the end of Net-Neutrality; the creation of a tiered-Internet that relegates my blog to a slow lane...), but right now, I don't foresee the end. 

If readers keep coming, I'll keep writing..

On that front, my blog audience has changed or rolled over three or four times in the nearly 13 years since I started. Those who read it now aren't necessarily those who started with it. Some folks have outgrown me, I guess, and some new folks have found my work and become regular, current readers. 

The numbers wax and wane. I'll have a great year, then I have a flat year, then a better year.  My blog has never been a big, flashy "it" blog or boutique destination, but it doesn't have to be, either.  I'm just happy to have a platform to write, every single day, and I'm delighted to have a consistent, lovely, intelligent readership.

I am a full-time instructor at a community college for a year now (teaching film, among other subjects), so it has become harder to blog every single day, multiple times, but that doesn't mean that I plan to stop blogging.  Some weeks, I have to rely on a rerun post or too, to get through.

But honestly, there's too much exciting stuff happening, and I enjoy blogging too much to entirely stop. A new Star Trek series, new Twin Peaks and more X-Files (season 11!) are all on the way. 

So I may not always blog 1400 times a year every year from here to eternity, but nor do I imagine just stopping cold.

Therefore, I hope you'll still be reading...and I promise not to spring "the end" on you. At this moment, I have 737 blog posts banked in the queue.

And in the meantime, perhaps I'll devote some mental energy to what my last post might look like...but probably not.  

I'll tackle that on the day the end comes. 

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Tigers

A tiger is a large, solitary cat, one renowned for its fierceness and raw power.

Given such noble and strong qualities, it is no surprise, perhaps, that tigers have appeared frequently throughout cult-TV history.

In the original Star Trek (1966-1969), for example, a tiger appeared in the early first season episode "Shore Leave."  

As you may recall, this episode concerned an amusement park planet where the "wishes" of every crew member become reality.  Late in the episode -- while Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is grappling with an old tormentor named Finnegan and an old flame named Ruth -- he must also deal with a loose, Bengal tiger.  According to legend (which may be apocryphal...), William Shatner thought Kirk should wrestle the tiger, until someone talked him out of it.

The same year, Batman (1966-1968) featured a two-part episode called "The Purr-Fect Crime/Better Luck Next Time" featuring Julie Newmar's Catwoman. There, Batman was forced to contend with her pet, a tiger.

A few years back, a tiger was also seen in Hannibal (2013 - 2015).  

The third and final season of this gripping series was an adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, and involved a serial killer, Francis Dollarhyde (Richard Armitage). This "Tooth Fairy" killer developed a romantic relationship with a blind woman, Reba (Rutina Wesley), and at one point took her to visit a sedated tiger at the zoo. There, Reba was able to put her head to the tiger's chest, and feel the powerful animal's breathing.

The most celebrated of recent cult-TV tigers is no doubt Shiva, the constant companion of King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), on AMC's The Walking Dead (2010 - ).  

Ezekiel goes nowhere without Shiva, and rules the Kingdom from his throne, with the tiger at his side.  In the season seven finale, viewers see the more aggressive side of not-quite-domesticated Shiva.  She launches an attack on Negan's minions at Alexandria.

Finally, tigers play an important role in Carnival Magic (1981), a bizarre "experiment" on Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (2017 - ).

The Cult-TV Faces of: Tigers

Identified by Hugh: Star Trek: "Shore Leave."

Identified by Hugh: Batman.

Identified by Michael Gants: Space:1999 (Year Two)

Identified by Hugh: The Super Friends.

Identified by Hugh: The Incredible Hulk.

Identified by Hugh: Beastmaster (TV Series)

Identified by Hugh: Primeval

Identified by Hugh: Doctor Who: "In the Forest of the Night."

Identified by Michael Gants: Hannibal.

Identified by Hugh: The Walking Dead.

Identified by Hugh: MST-3K: "Carnival Magic."

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Lidsville: "A Little Hoodoo Goes A Long Way."

In “A Little Hoo-Doo Goes a Long Way,” Weenie (Billie Hayes) falls ill with the dreaded Ali-Baba virus.

Meanwhile, the Bad Hats mutiny against Hoo-Doo (Charles Nelson Reilly) when he demands they clean his house for him. 

The Bad Hats steal Hoo-Doo’s hat vehicle, the Hataram, and head for the real world. But the Hataram ends up in Mark’s (Butch Patrick) hands, ultimately.

He can’t leave for home, however, because he is worried about the sick Weenie. He and the other Good Hats come up with a plan to heal Weenie, and it involves a shrink ray that will get Nursie into Weenie’s ring.

Lidsville (1971-1973) sticks rigorously to format this week, featuring a story in which Mark could – again -- get home, using Hoo-Doo’s hat vehicle, but must stay in Lidsville because of his friendship with the “goodie-goodies” (as Hoo-Doo calls them), namely Weenie.

What this means, essentially is that the hat-a-ram (motorized flying hat) is the key to escaping Lidsville. It seems like Mark would set his sights, each week, on getting it again.  But, of course, he doesn’t do that.  Because that would end the series real quick.

It is surprising, however, that the Bad Hats rebel against Hoo-Doo here. However, I suppose that being asked to clean house is a mutiny-worthy offense, especially to a child watching this program on a Saturday morning. It’s one thing to lord it over the Good Hats, or collect back taxes. But having to clean up? That’s the worst.

In terms of series mythology, we see in “A Little Hoo-Doo Goes a Long Way” that the genie ring is actually permeable. By that, I mean you can just step through the gem into Weenie’s world inside. Nursie is able to, after being shrunk, walk right inside it. Inside, the sick Weenie is there, shrunken, but bed-ridden in her own little universe.

The gimmick of the week is a shrinking potion, used first by Nursie, and then used against Hoo-Doo to limit his threatening nature. The shrinking scenes are accomplished using the chroma-key, which was a frequently-used tool for the Kroffts in the 1970’s.

Next week: “Oh Brother.”

Guest Post: M3GAN (2023)

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