Saturday, September 18, 2021

Blackstar: "The Mermaid of the Serpent Sea."


In "The Mermaid of the Serpent Sea," the Trobbits gather together a shipment of "power fruits" and "knowledge nuts" for the Mermanites of the Red Crown Reef.  

They sail to the reef, but find that the gentle water dwellers have been attacked by a phantom ship and minion of the Overlord called Captain Typhod.

Typhod wants the shipment of fruits and nuts for himself and his master, and transforms the Mermanites into savage sea serpents. 

Fortunately, Blackstar, Klone and Mara come to the rescue...



In this episode of Filmation's Blackstar (1981), audiences meet Typhod, another colorful minion of The Overlord. He's a nasty sea captain or pirate with a powerful ship at his command. The phantom ship can cloak during battle, and also fire teleporting beams at prey.  In other words, the ship's mast-had (shaped like a dragon), opens its mouth, and a beam comes out that captures victims, like the Mermanites.


Blackstar goes up against that beam in "The Mermaid of the Serpent Sea," and I don't know if I've mentioned it before in these reviews, but his star-sword makes a bionic sound effect when in use. 

Specifically, Blackstar re-uses the familiar sound effect from The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-1978).


"The Mermaid of the Serpent Sea" also begins to explain why the Overlord places such a premium on controlling the Trobbits and their tree.  Their tree produces "power fruit" -- which enhances physical strength and power, and the humorously named "knowledge nuts," which augment intelligence.  So the tree is not just a home to the Trobbits, it is a source of power and energy.


This is an enjoyable episode of Blackstar; one which develops the world and inhabitants sufficiently. For example, there is a nice flashback in the episode showing the crew of the golden galley defeating Captain Typhod in the past, and defending the Mermanites. 

About the only negative quality I can tag about this episode involves Klone.  He has a prominent role, but the writers do nothing to develop his character.  Is this shapeshifter a one-of-a-kind like Deep Space Nine's Odo?  

From a race that lives on Sagar?  

Why is he allied with Blackstar and Mara?  


The character, while useful for his changeling abilities, has no depth at this point. We know nothing of his people, his personality, or even his governing philosophy (like Vulcans and logic, for example).  

Monday, September 13, 2021

Guest Post: Respect (2021)

 

By Jonas Schwartz

 

There's a tantalizing movie inside the brick wall that is Respect, the new biography of Aretha Franklin. But due to poor direction, poor writing, and incoherent editing, it's impossible to penetrate it. Jennifer Hudson is volcanic singing the role, but it is impossible to track the character presented because of narrative issues, so the audience loses interest in the story of this musical genius. 

 

Respect follows Aretha from her childhood, as the daughter of a controlling Baptist minister (Forrest Whitaker) and an estranged mother (Audra McDonald). Aretha suffers both the wrath of her father and the sexual abuse of a congregant (who fathers two of her children according to Wikipedia, but that fact was cloudy in the film itself) and jumps at the chance to escape her repressive family home with a man (Marlon Wayans) just as manipulative as her father. At first, Aretha flounders as she can’t find her distinctive style, but the musical phenom discovers her voice and creates a catalog of monster hits like “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, “Think”, and “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman.'



The script by Tracey Scott Wilson (story by Callie Khouri, Oscar winner for Thelma and Louise), follows every bio cliché, without adding any dazzle to keep audiences invested, but also clutters the story so that it’s unclear of the facts that led the young girl to sprout into the iconic diva. The film skips around ferociously. One moment, a predatory family friend is locking himself in the bedroom with adolescent Aretha (Skye Dakota Turner), and then she has children. There’s no conversations about a 12-year-old being raped and having a child at that age. She just all the sudden has children running around the house. Later, Aretha scores a huge comeback with “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” but the audience never sees anything from the moment she revamps the song in her unique style with her sisters (back-up singers) forming her version of the already popular Otis Redding song to performing at Madison Square Garden. How does she feel when the song comes out, when her years of being ignored have ended?  I’m not sure. I’ll have to look it up on Wikipedia because the script doesn’t care. 

 

There are a few scenes the script gets perfectly. First, an argument in a dressing room with family friend Dinah Washington (Mary J Blige) that sets Aretha on her course of finding her groove. Second, the moments that demonstrate the creative process are effective. The scenes at the Alabama studio where — under the eye of her producer, Jerry Wexler (Mark Maron), the studio founder Rick Hall (Myk Watford), as well as her hot-headed husband — Aretha and the band of southern Caucasians turn a bland song into the hit “I’ll Never Love a Man (The Way That I Love You)” are riveting.  Also observing Franklin and her sisters restructure “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” into the blockbuster it became is exhilarating.  But those scenes are few and far between. 

 

Director Liesl Tommy, who comes mostly from Broadway and episodic television, is directing her first major motion picture and her direction on the film lacks the epic scope required for the subject matter of this caliber. The movie drags, mostly because every scene seems lifted from a TV-Movie biopic you’d find on Lifetime. There are no surprises in store for the audience OTHER than THAT VOICE.

 

It's no wonder Franklin personally picked Jennifer Hudson to play her. Hudson sells a song like she’s expelling a deadly toxin from her body before it eats her alive. Her intonation, her vocal heft, her kindness towards the lyrics, exemplify a master Diva. She can act a tune and make the audience feel every emotion flooding from her. Her acting in book scenes, though, is fair. She’s not a poor actress, but her caliber while singing far surpasses her depth when speaking for the character. Her Oscar® for Dreamgirls was mostly due to “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” and “I Am Changing” — NOT for her dialogue. And for those two songs, she deserved every ounce of the gold.

 


The rest of the cast give fine performances, particularly Whitaker, but the script gives them little on which to chew. Audra McDonald, a multi-Tony-winning dynamo (she could walk across the stage and still win a Tony), is wasted in the underwritten role of her mother. She shines in her moments interacting with young Turner, but the audience should get to spend more intimate moments with the two. 

 

Respect features an outstanding soundtrack, with Hudson owning all the songs that made Franklin a star. But the film itself makes little sense. It feels like the film canister accidentally mixed the reels and left two or three in the trash. Aretha Franklin deserves more RESPECT. And so does Jennifer Hudson. 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Blackstar: "The Lord of Time"


In “The Lord of Time,” the third episode of Filmaton’s sci-fi/fantasy cartoon Blackstar (1981), a minion of the Overlord called a Time Lord -- where have I heard that title before? -- attacks the Trobbits.

In particular, the villain named Kadray uses his time scepter to revert the magnificent red tree to an acorn. Because the Trobbits “will be done for without the tree,” Blackstar attempts to prevent the Lord of Time from collecting the acorn.


Unfortunately, he fails on his first attempt, and the Lord of Time plans to drop the acorn into the fountain of fire: “a source of great evil” located in the Castle of the Devil Spirits.


“The Lord of Time” is a fun episode of this series that sees a minion of Overlord with an amazing power.  He can use his time scepter to send age or de-age any object.  He not only turns the Trobbit tree into a big red acorn, he evolves a Sagarian insect to turn into a giant, buzzing menace.  The episode is very creative in its use of the specter. 

For instance, the Time Lord discovers that the Fountain of Fire is guarded b peaceful sprites who won’t do his bidding.  Therefore, he reverts them to a prehistoric form, as savage, cruel warriors who will do his bidding.  Quite a weapon.

The other intriguing element of this episode is that it attempts to imbue John Blackstar with a bit more in terms of distinguishing personality.  He wise-cracks a lot in this episode, which is new. “It’s time for a rewind,” he jokes.  Or “my how time flies,” he observes. 


While these moments may sound goofy, in fact they go a bit towards making him a larger-than-life hero.  In the previous two episodes I noted that Blackstar, while a great fighter, doesn’t have much personality or drive.  In fact, Mara seems a far more important “rebel” in “City of the Ancient Ones,” and “Search for the starsword.”  Through his bad punning here, Blackstar begins to take on some color, at least

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Blackstar: "The Search for the Starsword"


In “Search for the Starsword,” a volcanic eruption rocks Sagar, and monstrous Lavalocks -- fierce minions of the Overlord – emerge to steal the Star Sword, interrupting a picnic between Mara, Klone, Blackstar and the Trobbits in the process.



The Lavalocks attack the Trobbits and get the sword, but Blackstar isn’t out of the game yet.

We learn a bit more about the characters and world of Blackstar (1981) in this second episode of the series.  

For instance, John Blackstar is categorized as a “rebel who stands against the Overlord,” suggesting that the Overlord represents established authority.  The Overlord is not merely a factional leader of outcast from society (as Skeletor might be described on He-Man.) Rather, he is the Establishment; the real power on Sagar. 

Another scene also suggests this fact. We briefly see the Overlord in a room surrounded by a menagerie of creepy life-forms or aliens. These are his retainers, one might conclude, and he is holding court.




We also learn that the Overlord’s over-arching quest seems to be to unite the two pieces of the Star Sword – Power and Star.  If he does so, we must assume he would become incredibly powerful.

We see, as well, in “Search for the Star Sword” that one of Mara’s many powers involves “the power of prophecy,” to see what is bound to happen. She is very reminiscent of Ariel on Thundarr: The Bararian (1980 – 1982).



This episode also finds a lot of action for the Trobbits, and the little red-skinned, white haired denizens of the planet. It is intriguing to realize that The Smurfs (1981-1989) were introduced on Saturday morning the same year as were these little tree hobbits, but that the Smurfs took off in the pop culture.  Blue gnomes won out over red ones!

Friday, September 03, 2021

Guest Post: The Suicide Squad (2021)



The Suicide Squad…Take Two

 

By Jonas Schwartz

 

The third in The Suicide Squad saga (after the ’16 Suicide Squad and ’20s Birds Of Prey) acts more like a reboot than a sequel. Most of the original cast is either gone or make a quick cameo, and in their place are a slew of top stars (Idris Elba, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone) to accompany three leads from the first film: Joel Kinnaman as the team leader, Viola Davis as the callow Intelligence officer, and the main course, Margot Robbie as the delusional, psychotic anti-hero, Harley Quinn. Snatching a Marvel director, James Gunn (Guardians Of The Galaxy 1 and 2), the latest Suicide Squad has a more humorous vibe than the other DC films of this millennium, but still feels shallow when compared to their competitors.

 

A squad of hardened criminals including Quinn, Rick Flag (Kinnaman), and a coupling of characters from the first film (Jai Courtney as Boomerang), and fresh convicts (Michael Rooker, Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion) land on a South American Island to tackle a new, vicious regime. While the team learns why they are named “The Suicide Squad,” another team sneaks in at another location to continue the mission. They include Bloodsport (Elba), Peacemaker (Cena), the walking, talking shark, King Shark (voiced by Stallone). The survivors of the first landing team up with their counterparts to stop the new illegal government from exploiting “Project Starfish,” a deadly, mind-controlling entity steered by “Thinker” (Peter Capaldi), an egghead with electric nodes sticking out of his noggin. The team discovers that the entity is more than an experiment, it’s a living organism bent on world domination (is there any other kind?)

 


The Suicide Squad tries too hard to be shocking, irreverent, or original. Though extremely gory, with humans blown apart, pulled to pieces, and exploded, none of the deaths are creative enough to distinguish it from any other action film these days.  The camaraderie between the team feels thin, and many of the shots (heroes walk in slow motion several times – Thanks Tarantino for starting that cliché) have a ordinariness to them.

 

When Robbie is on the screen, it detonates. Though her character is wavering on the outskirts of reality, the actress invests layers of quirks and humor onto the certifiable, expert assassin.  Gunn animates the lunacy in her head, as flowers instead of blood flows from her victims. One solo take-down of enemies is a witty ballet of stunts, fake-outs, and female empowerment. 

 

The other leads are fine and have moments, particularly powerhouse actor Davis unleashing rage upon her subordinates and Cena revealing his true motivations. Unfortunately, the villains aren’t interesting. Capaldi’s Thinker turns out to be an ineffectual blowhard. Joaquín Cosio plays your standard, third-world country dictator stereotype. John Diego Botto, a very talented actor, has titillating chemistry with Robbie, but his scenes are too few.

 

Too much monotony and not enough Robbie is The Suicide Squad’s biggest issue.  One of our biggest talents, Robbie lifts the entire film on her shoulders and sprints around the rest of the cast.  Had the film focused purely on her or found a way to transmit her energy to the rest of the film, the many scenes without her may not have dragged down the film. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Blackstar: "City of the Ancient Ones"


In the first episode of the Filmation animated series Blackstar (1981) -- titled “City of the Ancient Ones” --the evil Overlord (Alan Oppenheimer) awakens the sorceress Amber from stasis in the temple of the Cave Apes. 

The villain hypnotizes Amber to believe that Mara (Linda Gary) and Blackstar (George DiCenzo) are her enemies, and then asks her to take him to the city of Tamborian, where he hopes to learn the secret powers of the Ancients. 

In particular, Tamborian is the home of the Sanctum of Wisdom, where secret scrolls are stored.

Blackstar and Mara -- who was once Amber’s close friend -- must put a stop to the Overlord’s quest, and contend with Tamborian’s giant robot guardian. 

When the Trobbits attempt to help too, Amber captures them inside her power ring…




“City of the Ancient Ones” sets the template for future Blackstar episodes. The Overlord hatches a plan that could give him supreme power, using the magic of a minion (in this case the brainwashed Amber), but runs straight into the muscular brick wall that is John Blackstar. 

The episode ends with order or the status quo restored and the Overlord foiled.

Much more intriguing than this cut-and-paste plot-line, however, are the little details of the story and characters.  

For example, Blackstar notes straight-up that he will “never get used to having such incredible strength,” suggesting that the gravity or atmosphere of alien Sagar makes him more powerful than he would be on Earth.  Flash noted the same thing of his strength on Mongo in an episode of Filmation’s Flash Gordon (1979-1981), but it was smart for Blackstar to get that explanation out of the way in the initial episode.


Also, I appreciate this episode because it suggests that Sagar boasts a long and interesting history. The object of the Overlord’s quest is a city where power awaits him, a city that only Amber knows the location of.  

We are left to ponder how Sagar went from civilizations like Tamborian to the relative barbarism we see in these 1 episodes.  Perhaps warlords like Overlord have plundered its treasures and squelched its freedoms for generations. This idea is implied in Mara’s dialogue. “I wonder if the planet will ever get back to the peacefulness of ancient times,” she muses.  So, like Altrusia on Land of the Lost (1975-1977), Sagar offers a civilization not on ascent, but in decline.




One sub-plot in “City of the Ancient Ones” that seems strange involves the fact that Mara apparently knows where Amber is trapped (in the caverns of the cave-apes), but has never sought to rescue her friend.  I like the idea, however, that a woman named “Amber” has a bejeweled ring that can trap enemies inside it.  The Trobbits are frozen, essentially by Amber, if not actually in Amber.


Friday, August 27, 2021

Guest Post: Jungle Cruise (2021)



Jungle Cruise: “Pirates of the Amazon”

 

By Jonas Schwartz

 

Disney’s latest theme park attraction to be adapted into a narrative film, Jungle Cruise, is derivative, paying slavish homage to many Disney programs, the Jungle Cruise attraction, and pretty much every cliché of the genre. Yet the filmmakers found a winning cast, some snazzy visual effects, and a storyline that harks back to the serials of the 1930s, to craft a delightfully goofy cotton candy of a film.

 

Two years into the Great War, the evil Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), heir to the German Chancellor, stalks Lily, a pretty scientist (Emily Blunt), and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), for an artifact that could win the war for Germany and lead to World Domination. Lily and MacGregor hire a boastful, con artist, Frank (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), to travel down the Amazon River with a German submarine in tow. But the psychopathic Prince is not the only danger. Ghostly presences with control of reptiles and insects, also want to steal the artifact, and the enigmatic Frank may know why.



It’s hard to keep track of the films from which Jungle Cruise pilfers. The two obvious, the Pirates of the Caribbean series and the Indiana Jones series, form both this movie’s structure. The opening even lifts a line directly from Raiders of the Lost Ark,when Plemons’ devious German repeats what Alfred Molina says in the opening of the Spielberg/Lucas film, only to quickly betray the hero. 

 

The setting and use of supernatural enemies who change shape harks back to Pirates 1: Curse of the Black Pearl. There’s also a clever early visual spoof of The Lion King’s “The Circle Of Life.” Director Jaume Collet-Serra and his writers Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, must know they’re not inventing the wheel with this tale, but the serial shorts like Hopalong CassidyZorro, and Flash Gordon (movies that inspired Lucas to make Raiders in the first place) all reused the same stories over and over. The predictability becomes part of the fun. 

 

Johnson has made a post-wrestling career out of these smarmy, but loveable adventurers, and he’s at his winking best, charming the masculine pants off Emily Blunt or having a tender moment with Whitehall.  Blunt gets to be an action star. The film allows her to fight for herself and not wait for The Rock to rescue her. Her doctor is brainy, resourceful, and kind, which is refreshing for a film of this caliber. She doesn’t need to be a damsel in distress since that role is played by Whitehall as one of the first openly gay characters in a Disney family film. The way he comes out to Frank and expresses his dedication to his sister expresses nobility BUT the exasperated flibbertigibbet hits every stereotype that films had eternally been dishing out about the “sissy,” played by actors in the ‘30s like Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore. The fact that the unashamed MacGregor exists in this film is modern, but he’s carrying 20th Century baggage. In the baddie role, Plemons camps it up with Ming the Merciless-like glee. He lays it on thick but is obviously having a good time. 

 

Director Collet-Serra is a peculiar choice for light action fare, since he specialized in intense horror films, such as The ShallowsOrphan, and the film famous for skewering Paris Hilton in slow motion, House of Wax. He keeps the mood breezy and even though several characters have violent deaths, he doesn’t linger on those murders and keeps the film solidly PG-13.

 

Jungle Cruise will not be a long-lasting Disney classic brought out of the vaults every 10 years, but it’s a effervescent summertime fun bag.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Blackstar (1981): Series Primer



“John Blackstar -- astronaut -- is swept through a black hole into an ancient alien universe. Trapped on the planet Sagar, Blackstar is rescued by the tiny Trobbit people. In turn, he joins their fight for freedom against the cruel Overlord, who rules by the might of the Power Star.  The Power Star is split into the Power Sword and the Star Sword.  And with the Star Sword in hand, Blackstar -- together with his allies -- sets out to save the planet Sagar….This is his destiny!”


-Introductory Narration to Blackstar (1981)



Our next Saturday morning blogging spotlight falls on another much beloved Filmation animated series: Blackstar (1981).

Blackstar is the tale of an Earth astronaut, John Blackstar (George DiCenzo) who unwittingly travels to another universe – hence a Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon figure -- and joins the fight against a tyrant much like Ming the Merciless: The Overlord.

Many viewers have noted the similarities between Blackstar and another animated program: Thundarr the Barbarian (1980-1982). 

John Blackstar, like Thundarr, carries a special weapon (the Star Sword rather than the Sun Sword), and is assisted by a beautiful woman with magical abilities (Mara [Linda Gary], rather than Princess Ariel). 


Both series also involve landscapes or terrains that seem fantastic, but have a strong basis in science fiction. Thundarr dwells in a far-future, post-apocalyptic world, and Blackstar does so in an alternate universe (and planet) of dragons and gnome-like beings, as well as sorcerers. Blackstar is also assisted by a kind of “resident” alien character, not Ookla the Mok, but rather Klone (Patrick Pinney), an elf-like shape shifter.


Unlike Thundarr, Blackstar faces off against a recurring villain, the Overlord (Alan Oppenheimer), and has a regular steed: the green dragon, Warlock.  Blackstar is also a man of color perhaps a Native American (forecasting Filmation’s Bravestarr [1987-1988]) or perhaps a Latino. The series’ Trobbits also have a reflection in Bravestarr: the diminutive Prairie People.


Many viewers of Blackstar have gazed at the series from the opposite perspective, and judged it a crucial influence on the much more successful, much more popular He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983-1985).  That series features a hero (Prince Adam) on an alien planet (Eternia rather than Sagar), who also wields a sword (The Sword of Power), and battles a recurring villain voiced by Oppenheimer: Skeletor.



Historically-speaking, He-Man is important to Blackstar for another reason. Blackstar ran for just one season of 13 half-hour episodes on CBS before it was cancelled. The runaway success of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, however, resulted in local stations showing reruns of Blackstar in syndication, and giving it a second life.  It was in that second life that a number of toys and playsets were released.

The stories for Blackstar are action-packed, and some are written by great genre vets such as Marc Scott Zicree.  Some elements are common. Overlord, for instance, often harnesses the power of a minion (like the “Time Lord”) to achieve his goals, but they are vanquished by the forces of good.

Similarly, John Blackstar often comes to the aid of the Trobbits (think Trees+ Hobbits + Smurfs), little pink-skinned, white haired gnomes. The Trobbits live in a big red tree, over which a purple rainbow hangs in the sky. Some of the prominent gnomes are named Balkar, Paul, and Gossamear. 



I watched Blackstar on its first run and loved it, though today I don’t believe it holds up as well as Thundarr does. One of the key delights of Thundarr is the “wreckage” of our world in the “fantasy” landscape of Thundarr’s world. Blackstar has no similar conceit that adds an extra layer of interest and meaning to the proceedings.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Thundarr the Barbarian in "Prophecy of Peril"


In “Prophecy of Evil,” Thundarr, Ookla and Ariel are locked in combat with a powerful wizard named Vashtar at his futuristic castle.  The heroes have captured a special crystal that Vashtar believes holds the key to his defeat. 

In particular, the crystal, when activated, will reveal a prophecy that dooms the sorcerer.  When this comes to pass, both Thundarr and Vashtar learn the truth.  The prophecy state that Vashtar will be defeated by three women working together.  The women are named Valerie Storm, Maya, and Cynda

Suddenly, the fierce battle becomes a race against time as Thundarr attempts to recruit these three women, and Vashtar attempts to kill them. 

Vashtar travels back in time to the late 20th century and captures Valerie while Thundarr awakens a Mayan mummy, who becomes the beautiful Maya. Later, he successfully recruits Cynda, a warrior and misanthrope.

Together, the three women join forces with Thundarr to end the reign of Vashtar, but after the battle is won at the castle, all three women are zapped back to the 20th century.



In some way, the final episode of Thundarr the Barbarian (1980 – 1982) feels more like a back-door pilot for a new Saturday morning series -- one featuring a team of Charlie’s Angels-like women warriors of various powers and abilities -- than it does a closing chapter for the actual program.

No matter, “Prophecy of Peril” is fast paced, entertaining, and filled with dynamic female characters and a great villain, Vashtar.  The story works, and the visuals -- from the castle and the crystal, to Vashtar’s air ship - are as dazzling as we have come to expect from this imaginative series.

Still, I’m sad to see the series end with no resolution or change in format. It might have been cool for the program’s creators to pull a “Conan” here and end the series with Thundarr accepting the throne of a kingdom in need, for example.   

Also, there’s still a lot about this post-apocalyptic world -- and Thundarr, himself -- that it would be nice to explore.  The series never depicted any stories about the hero’s span in captivity, as a slave.  We know almost nothing about his family.  

The same is true of Ariel.  

In short, the series could have easily run for two or three more seasons assuming that it kept charging on with the inventive (and occasionally subversive…) visuals.


Re-visiting Thundarr the Barbarian, I can say that I have come to appreciate the visuals very much.  I love the series’ tactile sense of place, and its steadfast focus on revealing detailed, post-apocalyptic landscapes such as those in London, Manhattan, and Beverly Hills.  I have also enjoyed how the series plays lightly (and humorously) with these settings, and makes commentary about them that is couched in a future world yet relevant to our own.

If you’re endeavoring to undertake a mini-Thundarr retrospective, the episodes that I enjoyed the most – and which seem to best express the values I enumerate above -- are “Stalker from the Stars,” “Valley of the Man Apes,” “Den of the Sleeping Demon” (the playground of death!) and  “Trial By Terror.”

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Thundarr the Barbarian in "Trial by Terror"


In “Trial By Terror,” Thundarr, Ookla and Ariel arrive in Atlanta just in time to save Thundarr’s friend, Thorak from execution by the corrupt town’s sheriff and his pig-man deputies.  

Specifically, Thorak has been accused of stealing fuel needed by the local villagers.  However, Thorak disputes these charges vehemently and Thundarr believes his friend.

Behind the scenes, a wizard named Artemis -- who lives in a Southern plantation -- is pulling the sheriff’s strings.  Specifically, Artemis needs the valuable fuel so he can launch his fearful new weapon, a vehicle called a “death ship…”



What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate…

Actually, what we have here is another Thundarr the Barbarian (1980 – 1982) episode that functions -- in an under-the-radar fashion -- as a kind of social critique.  Specifically, the episode looks at the Deep South, and the corruption it imagines there.

“Trial By Terror” opens with beautiful, highly-detailed images of post-apocalyptic Atlanta, and then moves into such weird imagery as uniformed pig-people driving pre-holocaust police cruisers.  Now, this is where the commentary comes in, at least in a visual sense. These police officers are, literally, pigs.  Modern slang often associates police officers with swine in terms such as “pig” but also “bacon” and “Trial by Terror” actually literalizes the concept.


The pig metaphor works here, in large part, anyway, because the episode strongly creates the impression of corrupt law enforcement officials “feeding from the trough.” Even the human sheriff is fat, and resembles a pig.  Think Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard. It’s much the same idea here, only with actual pig-mutants serving as police.

Also, there’s a commentary in “Trial By Terror” on entitled aristocracy. Artemis is an effete, over-dressed wizard who lives in a plantation, far away from the ebb and flow of village life.  He wants to control the village, however, and so “buys” the sheriff and the police force, essentially, to make his wishes come true.  But, of course, he doesn’t stand a chance against Thundarr.


“Trial by Terror” features some of the weirdest visuals yet featured on Thundarr the Barbarian. One shot shows pig-man police officers attacking Thundarr while flying through the air on rocket packs.


That’s not something you see every day…unless you make it a habit to watch Thundarr: The Barbarian.

Blackstar: "The Mermaid of the Serpent Sea."

In "The Mermaid of the Serpent Sea," the Trobbits gather together a shipment of " power fruits " and " knowledge nu...