Thursday, January 30, 2020

Underrated but Great #4: Mission: Impossible Season 5 (1970-1971)

The general consensus regarding the great, original Missile: Impossible (1966-1973) series is that it reached its pinnacle in Years Two and Three.  Peter Graves took the lead role of Jim Phelps in Season Two, and both seasons featured Martin Landau and Barbara Bain in career-making performances, as master of disguise, Rollin Hand, and model-turned-spy, Cinnamon Carter, respectively.  In this case, the conventional wisdom is largely correct.  Seasons Two and Three of this series are sharp, inventive, and unforgettable. They likely do rank as the very best of the seven season run.

But Mission:Impossible had turbulent times ahead. 

The Landaus departed from the series during a salary dispute between the third and fourth seasons. This meant, among other things, that there was no female lead for the series in its fourth year, only a rotating cast of guest stars, including Antoinette Bower, Lee Merriwether, and Anne Francis, among them.  

Leonard Nimoy also joined the cast as the new master of disguise, Paris the Great, but as he told author Patrick J. White in The Complete Mission:Impossible Dossier, he felt more like an implant into a successful formula than an organic addition to the great cast, which included Greg Morris as electronics expert Barnier Collier, and Peter Lupus, as the strongman on the team, Willy.  He was substituting for Rollin Hand, but not really creating a unique character for Paris

Something else had happened by the fourth season too. 

The rigidly formulaic weekly format had become a little stale through all the repetition.  Everyone knew there was the tape scene, in which the mission was introduced ("Good morning, Mr. Phelps..."), and the portfolio scene, in which Jim selected his team for the specific mission, by going through his IMF satchel of portfolio.  Then there was the apartment briefing in which the team assembled and a few tantalizing details of the mission were spoken about.  Then there was the mission itself, and finally, the surreptitious getaway.  

Throughout the first four seasons, this sequence of key (trademark) scenes was played out again and again, and there was another thing too: the missions never went awry.  

On the contrary, the missions were pretty much picture perfect, timed to the second, on each occasion.  If something "seemed" to go wrong on the mission, it was revealed in the first four seasons to be part of the plan all along.  This was not necessarily bad, because the missions were so elaborate, and, frankly, brilliant, that that the pleasure in watching the series was in figuring out how it all fit together.  It is difficult to remember today, in an age when the movie series is all about ever-more impressive stunts, that the franchise was really once a thinking-person's show; probably one of the most tightly, and smartly-scripted hour dramas to come out of the sixties and seventies.

But, again, by Season Four, it was all feeling a bit canned.  So for Season 5, many changes were in the offing in an attempt to keep the series vibrant and fresh, and up to date for the 1970's.  And as fans today know, anytime a series makes big changes, it becomes a source for controversy. 

Welcome to Season Five! 

The first changes began with casting. Lesley Anne Warren, then only in her mid-20s, joined the series as the youngest IMF agent yet, Dana.  She was very different from Cinnamon Carter, and there was a subtext to her work that some liked and some didn't.  There were occasions, for example, when Dana seemed to disapprove of what the IMF was doing, or feel sorry for the "marks" who were duped. Warren attempted to layer a "person" over the mission personas, which was not something that previously happened a lot.  She simultaneously played the role, and commented on the playing of the role, in a self-reflexive manner.  Some people felt this made her performances look "transparent."  Others, such as this author, felt she brought something new and different to the series, and welcomed the attempt.

 Also joining the cast, for roughly half the episodes in Season 5 was a very young Sam Elliott, as Doug, a physician and IMF agent.  Doug was not nearly as successful an addition to the cast as Warren's Dana, in large part because a doctor was not always needed on missions. By the end of the fifth season, Doug was standing in for Willy, helping out Barney do his behind-the-scenes work in elevator shafts, in basements, and so forth.  The addition of Doug also meant that Willy's part was curtailed, and Lupus only appeared in half the season episodes. That cutting back of Willy's role was a mistake of colossal proportions, not because of anything to do with Sam Elliott or his work here, but simply because audiences loved Willy.  He was a beloved part of the IMF family, by this point, and removing him actually did the Doug character no favors. Why remove a fixture of the series for someone new, and then have that someone new fill exactly the same role?  This is the kind of switch-up that fans generally hate, and for good reason.

So the cast/character changes for Season 5 were certainly a mixed bag.  But series writers and producers did something bold in terms of their writing approach to the series.  They mixed up the formula in a dramatic way, to add a scintillating and new sense of surprise to Mission:Impossible episodes in a very real way.  

First, they removed the portfolio scene, and shortened the tape sequence.  The voice on the tape at this point, for example, sometimes did not remind Jim that "the secretary will disavow" any knowledge of his team's action if any team members are "caught or killed."  More importantly, however, unpredictable factors began to impact the missions, and so the series went off formula in dramatic and often explosive ways ways.  Where once we assumed that the IMF would always succeed, the writers for Season 5 began to explore twists and turns that called everything into question.

Gazing across the catalog of the fifth season, one can see how the writers developed new ideas to keep the series fresh, and in the process, revived the series in a dramatic way.

Here's a list of some of the most memorable and unique episodes from the underrated season.

"The Killer:" This was the season premiere of Season 5 (1970 - 1971), and saw the team go up against a hired gun, Lorca, played by Robert Conrad.  The twist in the format here was that the killer picked his murder techniques by a roll of the dice, so the IMF team could never predict his next move.  The question became: how do you stop a killer, when that killer doesn't even know his next move?  

The answer, as provided by the episode, was brilliant: you gum him up in transit, you slow him down so you have time to adjust!  Here, Leonard Nimoy's Paris played an incompetent taxi driver, who would drive too slow, take wrong turns, or drive into traffic so the scrambling IMF team could adjust to whatever destination Lorca set. That was just one piece of the puzzle. Another piece was a hotel actually taken over by the IMF, to monitor the killer.  This episode was so strong, and so suspenseful, that the script was re-used for the 1988-1990 revival series premiere.

"My Friend, My Enemy:" In this riveting episode, perhaps the very best of Season 5, the IMF team is itself, mission:impossible'd, if that's a phrase.  After a mission, Paris is captured by enemy agents, led by Dr. Tabor (Mark Richman). They program him to hate Jim Phelps, and to assassinate him.  This is a reverse of the typical format, as our beloved team members are the "mark," and led through a series of traps and puzzles, without their knowledge.  Increasing the value of the episode, we learn here some terrific and fascinating details about Paris's background, and his hatred for authority figures.  We learn how his father pushed his mother away, and she abandoned Paris as a child. And then, we learn how, his magician mentor murdered the love of Paris's life, again spurring a hatred for authority figures. Dr. Tabor uses that hatred, and tries to turn it against Jim Phelps, the team leader.

"The Missile."  This is an absolutely nuts episode, but deserves credit for the way it involves random fate. On a typical mission to trick enemy agents, a serial killer randomly lays eyes on Dana in a car repair garage, and becomes obsessed with her.  As Dana gets the information about how the enemy agents plan to assassinate Jim, the serial killer stalks and abducts her, and takes her to his apartment, so that she can't telephone that information to the team.  The idea of random fate interfering in the mission is one that hasn't played out before, and this is a terrific showpiece for Warren's Dana.  In this episode, she must escape the serial killer, and get the information to Jim, before it is too late to save his life.

"Squeeze Play."  As Patrick White explains it in his great book, a pillar of Mission:Impossible is the idea that the audience should never feel sorry for the mark.  The mark is the bad guy tricked by the IMF team.  They are often despicable characters, without redeeming quality.  They get what they deserve, in other words. 

This episode explodes that idea in a haunting way.  Here, an aging Mafia boss, Zembra (Albert Paulsen) who cares for his granddaughter, Eve (Victoria Vetri) is the mark, as he prepares to pass his power to a young replacement.  The IMF team interferes, and in a shocking moment, Eve learns the truth about their plans. Paris, playing a gangster who stands to inherit Zembra's kingdom, so-to-speak, must break character, and convince her that what the IMF is doing to her family is right, and just.  All that Eve can see, however, is the old man she loves. But, knowing that his decisions as a leader in the Syndicate cause people to die, she goes along with Paris. The end of the episode is bittersweet, as Paris tries to thank Eve for not interfering with the plan and convince her that she is free to live life away from the Syndicate.  Eve goes off instead,, to care for her sick grandfather, now defeated. She still loves him, and will stay tied to him, despite everything. In this case, the audience can see the human impact of an IMF mission. It isn't entirely pretty.

"The Hostage."  In this episode, Paris is mistaken for a role he played  during a just completed mission. In that mission he played a rich American hotel magnate.  After the mission is completed, he is captured and held for ransom because of his believed (really fake...) fortune. His captors don't realize that he is not the rich businessman he appears to be. The team must rescue him, and not break the illusion of his "role."

"The Innocent."  In "The Innocent," Barney is injured and can't complete a mission to sabotage an enemy computer.  This requires Jim to recruit somebody outside of the IMF, a young "hippie" computer scientist, played by Connelly.  But Connelly's character, Jerry, wants no part of the IMF, or the mission.  He is against American imperialism and interference in foreign affairs. He would just as soon turn in the IMF agents to the enemy, as complete his task.  So Jim must, basically, justify why the IMF does what it does.  This is one of the few times in the series that the work of the IMF is explored in moral and legal terms.  (After all, it is basically an organization operating above the law, inside the borders, often, of sovereign countries.  It tricks and entraps people. But of course, it does so on the side of the angels, right?)

"The Merchant."  In this episode, Jim and his team must attempt to take out a Nazi gun-runner, played by guest star George Sanders. The plan involves Paris wagering and winning 5 million dollars from Sanders' character, at a casino poker table.  It is all rigged perfectly, using an earpiece and computer designed by Willy. Then, in the last minutes, a drink is spilled on the table, short-circuiting the computer. Now, with five million dollars on the table, Paris must win the hand without any tricks, gimmickry, or inside help.

The above-episodes are just some of the most memorable and twisty ones of an inventive and ambitious season.  Other examples include "The Homecoming," guest-starring Loretta Swit.  That story finds Jim investigating a series of murders in his home town, at the height of the Vietnam War. A distressed veteran is tagged for the crimes, but Jim sees something else going on. Again, current events are acknowledged, which is a rarity on the series, and there is even a message about how America treats its veterans in an unpopular war.

Then there's the absolutely outrageous "Kitara," which involves using racism against a racist, basically.

Not all of these episodes are perfect, but they showcase Mission: Impossible changing thing up, taking chances, and moving forward into the new, more 'gray' territory of the 1970's.  The 1960's episodes were crisp, elegant, and perfectly plotted, like romantic James Bond movies, only much smarter, and more complex. As the series hit the 1970's, the formula, and even the IMF's "mission" came into question, creating a set of remarkable stories that still hold up today.

Lesley Warren and Leonard Nimoy both left the series at the end of Season Five, but their work here stands the test of time.  Although not widely loved, Season Five remains a late series high-point in one of the cleverest, most intelligent TV series ever produced.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Mission: Impossible Video Game (Nintendo; 1988)

Mission: Impossible GAF Viewmaster

Mission: Impossible Board Game (Ideal)

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Buck Rogers: "The Guardians"

The second season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is not generally high-regarded among fans. In its sophomore sortie, the Glen Larson series eliminated the characters of Dr. Huer, Dr. Theopolis and the Draconians, downplayed Buck’s (Gil Gerard) strong sense of fish-out-of-water humor, and moved Buck from sexy secret agent work on Earth to a deep space assignment aboard the Earth ship Searcher.

These format changes cast the new Buck Rogers rather firmly in the mold of Star Trek or Space: 1999 with the new series acting as a vehicle for “civilization of the week” stories. 

In that particular format, success or failure rests largely on how well interesting and likable main characters interact with intriguing or convincing alien cultures. The Fantastic Journey (1977), for example, got the former aspect of that alchemy right (the likable main characters), but had a difficult time coming up with good stories, and original alien cultures to explore.

In broad terms, this was the very problem with the second season of Buck Rogers. Episodes that involved mischievous dwarfs, (“Shgoratchx!), or backwards-aging men spray-painted gold (“The Golden Man”) failed to impress or persuade either mainstream audiences or die-hard sci-fi fans.

Some second season episodes were better, including the dynamic “The Satyr," a show that pinpointed a great “alien” metaphor for alcoholism and its impact on families.

The subject of this review “The Guardians” may not work as effectively as “The Satyr” -- at least on a metaphorical level -- but I still estimate it’s one of the best episodes of Buck Rogers’ second season, in part because it deploys a tried-and-true Star Trek technique for better developing the dramatis personae.

On Star Trek, an alien disease or weapon was often utilized to examine emotional aspects of the characters that they normally keep hidden. “The Naked Time” or “The Naked Now” are two such notable examples.

In those episodes, a disease that mimicked alcohol intoxication “exposed” the underneath characteristics of our favorite Starfleet officers. The character revelations were sometimes funny, sometimes extremely moving. 

That general idea informs “The Guardians,” only an alien artifact is the catalyst for the character reveals.

Here, Buck and his new friend Hawk (Thom Christopher) investigate a “Terra Class satellite.” Although the exploration of the planet is supposedly “strictly routine,” Buck and Hawk soon hear a distant bell ringing over the wind's howl. They follow the noise and discover that the bell tolls for Janovus XXVI, an old man now on his death bed.

This ancient “Guardian” informs Buck that he has been waiting for Captain Rogers for over five hundred years. Now, he must pass on to Buck – “The Chosen One,” an ancient green Pandora’s Box. This jade artifact must be transported to the old man’s unnamed successor and only a person of both “the past and the present” (like Buck) can get it to its destination successfully. 

That night, Buck sleeps in proximity to the jade box and dreams of his life on Earth. In particular, he experiences a vision of his mother, one from the eve of his disastrous mission on Ranger 3. After the box is brought back to the Searcher, it begins to have strangely deleterious effects on the ship and crew. The ship inexplicably goes off course and makes a setting for the edge of the galaxy.

This trajectory especially concerns Lt. Devlin (Paul Carr), since he is due to be married on Lambda Colony in only a few days. 

When Admiral Asimov (Jay Garner) is exposed to the box, he imagines his crew…starving to death on the long journey in the void from the edge of the galaxy to Lambda.

When Wilma (Erin Gray) is affected by the box, she sees herself as a hopeless blind woman wandering the corridors of Searcher alone.

Then, in a matter of an hour, Wilma is blinded in real life, and realizes her vision was prophetic. Even Hawk is affected, and he experiences an emotional moment with his dead mate, Koori (Barbara Luna). 

As the Searcher reaches the edge of the galaxy, Buck realizes the box must be passed on to a Guardian, a “saintly figure” seen throughout many cultures and on many worlds. When a Guardian does not possess the box, chaos ensues, and that sense of chaos explains a lot of Earth’s violent history. Buck realizes that the Time Guardian is the very one that they now must seek… 

By and large, Buck Rogers is a pretty light show, a fact which distinguishes it from the original Battlestar Galactica or Space: 1999. There’s often a great deal of humor on Buck, and a tremendous amount of physical action too.

In some sense, “The Guardian” showcases how the series could have approached more serious sci-fi storytelling.

 This episode is not without flaws (and the ending looks cheap...), but the crew member visions of people starving to death and going blind are authentically disturbing. I remember watching the program for the first time in 1981 and feeling pretty jolted by Asimov’s vision of a crew dying from hunger…and looking like zombies.  This moment resonates, and is probably the strongest in the show, despite the fact that Gil Gerard, in the vision, hardly looks emaciated...

"The Guardian" also delves into some pretty dark territory regarding erstwhile Lt. Devlin. While Searcher is lost and heading to the edge of the galaxy, he learns that his fiancé on Lambda Colony has died.  She was killed while out searching for him and his lost ship. Again, this bit of drama is just a bit darker than the typical Buck Rogers show, and here it all works well.  A sense of panic and anxiety builds up as "The Guardian" reaches it final act.  

Frankly, the writing for the main characters here is also among the best in the series' second season. We learn how heavily Asimov carries the burden of command (imagining a future of starvation, in which he is incapable of helping his crew…), we come to understand Wilma’s fear of appearing vulnerable or being pitied. And we are reminded once more of Hawk’s utter isolation and alone-ness. 

Of all the phantasms featured in "The Guardians," Buck’s may be the least effective. It’s great to meet a Rogers family member, since we know very little of the astronaut’s family history, and yet Buck doesn’t really do or say anything important in this dream.  You’d think Buck might want to warn his Mom about the coming nuclear holocaust…tell her to go into hiding, or something. Instead, she’s the one worried about his mission. 

Buck’s dream is a bit off tonally, though it’s fun to see the special effects from “Awakening” recycled as a callback to the Buck Rogers pilot.

In toto, I would have preferred to see a dream in which Buck revealed some personal flaw, foible or fear.  Like the fact that he was afraid of never again making a meaningful connection with the world around him.  I don't know.  But something other than an idyllic dream of lemonade and small-town Americana.  This dream tells us where he came from, but in a sense, we already know that.  Better to explore how he feels about where he was, or where he is, or where he might be headed.

Like many cult-tv programs, “The Guardians” also imagines an external force as being the guarantor of peace or war in the galaxy.

On the original Twilight Zone, the great (and incredibly atmospheric) episode “The Howling Man” postulated that man would experience peace only during those intervals during which he held the Devil captive. Whenever the Devil escaped captivity, world war would occur.  

Likewise, in Star Trek’s “The Day of the Dove,” an alien monster that thrived on “hate” was believed responsible for the violent, war-like aspects of humankind’s long history. 

Here, the Guardians preserve galactic peace, but during the uncertain periods of succession, elements of the space-time continuum “jump” their tracks, and chaos is the result.  In all these situations, "fate" is determined specifically by some agency outside of man's dominion and yet he can  still struggle to rein the situation back in during each crisis.  

Probably the best aspect of “The Guardians” is simply the fact that the episode creates a sense of terror (especially in the scene wherein the box is jettisoned from the ship…but then re-appears aboard her…) without ever focusing on a humanoid villain. There are no bad guys to be found here, at all, only a strange alien artifact that the crew of Searcher, including Buck, doesn’t quite understand. 

This conceit was very much of the Space:1999 playbook: terror is forged because man doesn’t have all the answers, and his curiosity or other emotions only create more danger.

It’s nice to see Buck Rogers operate on that more intellectual, spine-tingling level, at least for a short duration. Had later episodes followed this relatively intelligent formula, the second season might today be much better perceived.

I don’t often return to the second season of Buck Rogers today because of some of the really dreadful episodes, but “Time of the Hawk,” “The Satyr” and yes, “The Guardians” reveal how the changes from season one to season two could have truly created an interesting space opera and interesting, early 1980s alternative to Star Trek.  

I don't know if the second series was too rushed, it was difficult to find good writers, or there were problems elsewhere that needed to be addressed first, but at least for "The Guardians" everything seems to come together for Buck. 

In this case "opening up Pandora's Box" gave the sci-fi series a pretty visceral and intriguing hour.

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Cult-TV Faces of: The President














Thursday, January 23, 2020

Buck Rogers: "Journey to Oasis"

In "Journey to Oasis," the Earth is on the verge of war with the secretive Zikarians, a militaristic alien race with a dark secret. Specifically, the Zikarians are double or hybrid entities: they boast human-like heads attached to humanoid bodies, but each exists symbiotically.  In short, Zikarians and can remove their heads and their bodies still function on their own.

No one on the Searcher is aware of this strange fact, as Buck (Gil Gerard) and Wilma (Erin Gray) are assigned to transport the Zikarian Ambassador, Duvoe (Mark Lenard) to a peace conference in the city of Oasis on the planet R4. Unfortunately, all around Oasis is a wasteland, a "depository of failed experiments" and "genetic garbage dump" going back thousands of years.

Buck and Wilma's shuttle, with Duvoe and Dr. Goodfellow (Wilfred Hyde-White) and Hawk (Thom Christopher) aboard, goes down in the wasteland, and the crew must make for Oasis, and the peace conference, on foot.  The Zikarians will declare war, and destroy the Searcher, if Duvoe does not attend the conference on time.

On the planet surface, Buck and Duvoe clash, in part because Wilma knows him from a mission years earlier. She admires him, and is attracted to him, but Duvoe does not wish her to learn his secret.

The survivors of the shuttle crash make for Oasis, but must contend with a little blue imp, ODX (Felix Silla), and an invisible warlord who guards the only path to the city, and peace conference...

Stretched out to almost interminable length at two parts (or two hours), "Journey to Oasis" is a horribly sloppy episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1978-1981), and one that shows off the new format to poor effect. 

Where to begin on this one? 

Throughout the location shooting, it is abundantly plain that Wilfred Hyde-White's role of Dr. Goodfellow is being played by a double, one who doesn't very closely resemble him.  No doubt that this was an expedient because of the actor's advanced age, at this point.  But still...

Similarly, there's a strong disconnect, visually, between the location footage, and the footage shot with the primary actors on a sound-stage. The soundstage looks appropriate to Star Trek, circa its third season, in 1969, with its abundantly fake paper mâché rocks.  But this episode aired in 1981.

ODX's bight blue make-up, meanwhile, has visible edges where the paint  job just...stops. 

And Buck's final battle over the chasm, with the invisible warlord and his glow-in-the-dark sword, is rendered with fast motion photography. The result is that the final confrontation looks ridiculous. It doesn't help that the bridge Buck traverses  doesn't appear to be more than three or four feet off the ground, and it is very short in length. This episode clearly runs smack into budgetary problems that impacted the design and execution of the episode's major sets.

The shuttle in this episode, similarly, is from Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979), and doesn't look like a product of Earth technology.  It's a cheap leftover.  The Searcher shuttlecraft changes designs virtually every week in the second season.  Maybe the exploratory ship carried lots of different shuttle types?

Meanwhile, the script treats Wilma badly. When she sees that cannibals have decapitated their prey and jammed their heads on pikes, she screams at the top of her lungs like a child.  She's a colonel in the military, and has seen things, in many episodes, that are far more terrifying than severed heads.  The episode makes Wilma react in this unprofessional manner so that audiences will believe she would reject Duvoe, since he too has a severed head, or whatever.

I know, it's all ridiculous, and in the service of a thin plot: a trek across the desert to reach a peace conference in time.

On the other hand, one can see that the show was, at this point, at least still trying. There is an impressive miniature for the Zikarian ships on display and I applaud the effort to fill in Wilma's back history, even if it doesn't seem consistent of what we know of recent Earth history, from the series' first season.  

It is also nice that there is the idea, here, no matter how half-unearthed, that Buck may actually be jealous of Wilma's affection for Duvoe. Too often in the first season, the relationship between Buck and Wilma is undefined.  Here, we know that he possesses deep feelings for her.

Casting Mark Lenard as Duvoe is a good call, too, though he has played alien ambassadors before (Sarek), of course, and his role here is ridiculous, and made even more ridiculous by his bad, curly wig.  

Lenard plays an important scene with his "severed" head hoisted up between two hands (perhaps his own, perhaps not), and the effect is just silly beyond measure.  He is an actor of such dignity, and yet there is little dignified about the design of his character in "Journey to Oasis."  At one point, it's clear Lenard's head is jutting out from a large rock, while his actual body is hidden inside it.  He shouts orders at his headless body, which is walking around aimlessly.

Again, the mind boggles that anyone thought this was a good idea, or would have looked anything but silly.

All in all, one can't help but think that "Journey to Oasis" would have been a tighter, more effective story at just one hour in duration. A lot of the sloppy execution might have been featured less prominently or mitigated by breezing past it as fast possible.

Next week, a much better installment: "The Guardians."

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

25 Years Ago: Voyager's Opening Credits

Whether Star Trek: Voyager (1995 - 2001) is your favorite entry in the long-lived space opera franchise or not, it is pretty much undeniable that the series' introductory montage is the most beautiful and gorgeously realized in Trek history.

The original Star Trek (1966 - 1969) remains my overall favorite series in the Roddenberry universe for many reasons, but in this terrain, it simply doesn't compete. If you go back and watch the opening credits for Star Trek, even with high-definition special effects, you can see that it doesn't quite capture the majesty, mystery or wonder of space. 

At least not in the way that Voyager's opening manages. Indeed, I have readers asked me to feature a Star Trek series here on Outre Intro, and I have resisted for a variety of reasons.  

DS9's (1993 - 1999) opening is sedentary and dull, even though the series itself is great. 

I never took to Enterprise's (2001 - 2005) non-traditional theme song. 

And The Next Generation (1987 - 1994) got close...but Voyager perfected the "space art" formula, revealing deep space as a realm you would actually want to explore.

Specifically, Voyager recognizes a fact that Space:1999 (1975 - 1977) learned in the seventies: outer space looks a lot cooler when you're not looking at it simply a black background with pinpricks of light.  A colorful nebula helps break the visual monotony.

Accordingly, in Voyager, space is a living place of fire and ice, of fog and shadows.  In short, it looks like a place you might actually want to spend money to visit.

This is not a small deal. 

By the 1990s, the American space program had become "routine," taken for granted by most citizens. The shuttle program was aging, but one bright spot (after initial problems...) was the Hubble Telescope, which revealed some of the most beautiful cosmic imagery one could imagine. Voyager's introductory montage seems to have been created with this ideal in mind, forsaking the traditional image of outer space as nothing but blackness and snowflake stars.

As the montage commences, cosmic rays are visible, stretching across a section of space. The light and particles are golden, suggestive of heat, but sort of a welcoming heat, in a sense.  In the next frame, we see that these are emissions from a bright star, and a lone starship passes within our view.

We move through the wave of particles, and when they dissipate, disappearing from view, the series title comes up. 

Importantly, the lettering of the word VOYAGER is gold too, exactly like the light we saw from the sun.

Next up, the great starship passes by our eyes. It moves above us, so that we get a good, detailed look at it.  It is familiar, like the U.S.S. Enterprise, in shape, but different too.

Instead of a saucer, we get an arrow head, or spear point. That seems appropriate for a ship blazing new trails, in unexplored space.

Next up, the Voyager cuts through what looks like a glowing fog-bank in space, and we get only intermittent views of her, as we might get similar views of a submarine at sea, moving just beneath the ocean's surface.

Next, an asteroid tumbles through view, and there is, perhaps, a cosmic string in the background, letting off white light.

A planet surface becomes visible, and in the foreground an icy, mountainous moon.  Once more, the array of sights is dazzling and beautiful, and a repudiation of the idea that space is a barren, empty place, devoid of light and life, devoid of beauty.

The message: this is an exciting show worth watching, and space is a realm worthy of exploration.

Another gorgeous sight: we move through the rocks comprising the rings of an alien world.  

I love this next sequence of shots, as it suggests one reason to love film (and television). Both media, at their best, can take us to places we have never been, but perhaps imagined in our dreams.  This shot, moving through the rings of a Saturn-like planet, at least for me, fulfills that idea.

A color inversion is next, as Voyager moves beyond an eclipse of some type.  Again, the montage seems to stress color and a variety of environments.  This shot looks like "negative" space, and like nothing we would expect to encounter.

In the montage's final sequence of shots, Voyager warps into a nebula, into -- importantly -- a zone of light, and varied colors (crimson and blue).  It's destination is not a world of black and white, but wondrous color.   This is what awaits us in the stars if we are brave enough to tackle them.

I absolutely love the visuals of this montage, and how they are coupled with Jerry Goldsmith's remarkable, inspiring and bombastic score.  

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...