Wednesday, January 31, 2024

My Father's Journal: "The Tug of the Past"

This week in my father's journal, Ken explores the idea of "collecting," (which I certainly inherited; as did my son), what it means, and the role it plays in all our lives.



    "The Tug Of the Past"

                                                                             By Ken Muir


The future is unknowable. The present is messy, tense, tangled,

often frustrating. But the past is a different animal…….or so it

appears. It seems to be knowable, simpler, capable of being

modeled into something useful in our lives.


I have bought into this notion. Perhaps, being a former history

teacher,  I above all should know that this idea is overly simp-

listic, that the past is never so lucid, so understandable as our 

nostalgia and desire for clarity make it seem. But the quest for 

knowing about the past and integrating elements of its art and 

artifacts into my life has ensnared me.


The chase for American art pottery and prints, my fascination

with Marie Simonds’ barn and its contents, managing the sale of 

contents at Catherine Nelson’s home, the quest to secure objects 

that my parents had collected over decades……..all of these 

coupled with attendance at countless estate and moving sales 

evince a strong passion for assembling the best exemplars of 

America’s material past that we could find and afford.


This passion for “collecting the old” was never stronger than

when I stumbled into a “time capsule” sale.  Most 

often these were homes where a couple had set up housekeeping

just before or just after World War II.   And, in order to be a true

“time capsule,” the owners had not significantly updated or

remodeled the home. Kitchens and basements were the prime 

hunting grounds, with attics and garages coming next. Tools,

art prints, kitchen ware, glassware and bric-a-brac, art pottery, 

furniture, military uniforms and equipment, toys, vintage books, 

ephemera……..the range of desirable finds was almost endless.


Bloomfield, Nutley, Clifton, Lyndhurst, Garfield, Prospect Park,

Rutherford, East Paterson….the whole string of semi-industrial

towns along the Passaic River comprised the rich vein of older

communities to be mined. Their workshops and small factories 

had helped measurably in the war effort, deploying American 

technical knowhow and also sustaining the surrounding resident-

ial neighborhoods. Marie Simonds’ barn, with its wartime wood-

working enterprise, was a classic example of this aspect of 

American mid-century life. Wooden U S Army Signal Corps boxes 

were produced there in considerable quantity.


The description of “finds” at these sales and the behavior of other

patrons -especially dealers-  could fill many hours. 


So, why does this accumulation of the material past grip me so?


Some say that people set out to “collect their youth….” finding

again the items that amused them and peopled their world when 

they were children. This was not true in my case, for our family 

lived in such a spartan manner that few of these amenities were

around, and even such items as we had in these categories were

almost entirely for daily use, not for aesthetics.  The single ex-

Caption ion to this pattern was my father’s growing collection of 

clocks.


Some might say that collecting antiques was a good investment,

and perhaps for some it was. But the Great Recession of 2008 put

the lie to that notion pretty much, as prices of antiques and

“vintage” items of all sorts plunged and stayed depressed.


So I am left merely with the oft-repeated maxim of dealers and 

collectors, “buy what you like… that way, you can’t go wrong.”


And I guess that’s what it finally comes down to……I like these

objects.  


They come from an America that I can relate to, that I

know reasonably well, that I can be proud of in many respects.

They display a realism -- to life, to Nature -- that I appreciate and 

can relate to.  I respect the workmanship they embody…….they 

are a form of “eye candy” that I value.  At some level they make 

me feel good, fulfilled.


Monday, January 29, 2024

Guest Post: Scott Pilgrim Takes Off (2023)


Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

By Matthew Allair

Can a known fan property be reexamined and still move forward? The last ten years have been a little precarious in the entertainment field for sequels, revivals, and reboots. Often the need to do something ‘new’ with fan favorites can lead to mixed results and diminishing returns, new characters can be introduced that can intermittently diminish the integrity of the original, and beloved characters. One of the problems for the Jame Bond franchise, due to the need for formula, the character arc for Bond seemed pretty fixed and static for years, for example the Roger Moore era. Growth comes with risk, but it can make for entertaining material when done well. Fortunately Netflix has wisely struck a balance with their new sequel, alternative take on Scott Pilgrim, and it’s a delight, a series that has a narrative sleight of hand in its telling that is refreshing. It stays true to the source material, while remaining self-aware, and metatextual, and adding something new. The youth trend towards Metamodernism – a way of viewing the world that emphasizes a kind of integrated pluralism – has already affected entertainment, for good and ill, and places the viewer with challenges. When done well like in “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” 2022, it can reveal truths about the human condition, when not, it can be off putting. 

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series from the early two thousands managed to be both groundbreaking and incisive in its comments about growing up, maturing, and taking stock of your interactions with others. The new series is Executive Produced by Edgar Wright, the director of “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” 2010, with the majority of the eight episodes co written by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It brings back the feature film cast and retains a continuity between the film and graphic novel. The other key ingredient is the animation team at Science Saru whose work on this series is seamless, and beautifully executed. There’s some evident craftmanship in the animation between director Abel Gongora, and animation cinematographers Hikari Itou, and Yoshihiro Yanagi. Yet they also retain the look of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s character drawings. The series is full of references to other films, anime, and games from the nineties. 



For those unfamiliar with the book and film, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), twenty-three, a ‘between jobs’ Bass player for a band, is dating a high schooler, after a brutal breakup of a former flame turned into megastar, when he meets the girl of his dreams at a party named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The only problem is, he will have to fight her seven deadly evil exes to win her over while navigating the awkward breakup of his underage flame Knives Chau. The league of exes were organized by the seventh ex-boyfriend, Tycoon Gideon Graves (Jasson Schwartzman).

But this new series manages some new surprises while initially following the early part of the known tale before taking an abrupt shift, thus making it difficult to not engage in spoilers. It is best to probably go in with the element of surprise, but each episode is packed with so many revelations and information you might want to take in two passes of the series to fully absorb. 

The show is a rolodex of pop culture references. The episode ‘Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life’ pretty much tracks with the known tale of the books and film. We are introduced to his friends, His gay roommate Wallace Welles (Kieran Culkin), his semi girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), his band mates Kim Pine (Allison Pill) and Stephen Stills (Mark Webber), the hapless friend and roadie Young Neil (Johnny Simmons), his sister Stacey Pilgrim (Anna Kendrick), and rival Julie Powers (Aubrey Plaza), and while plot points are straight forward, that example of narrative slight of hand is seen in the revealing title for one, as well as the scene when Scott first meets Ramona, his pick up line differs from the feature, his trivial comment is about Sonic The Hedgehog in the early nineties using the same actor for two different versions, and she comments about watching older reruns like Columbo as a kid. Without it being evident, this telegraphs how the series is going to play out. 

Scott receives a letter stating an intended fight to the death, which Scott ignores. Scott’s band Sex Bob Bomb plays a club soon after the warning and evil ex number one Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) appears to fight Scott, yet there’s a reversal of fortune as Matthew wins, and allegedly kills Scott. 

“A League of Their Own” deals with the fall out and Scott’s funeral. Yet Scott’s former ex Envy Adams (Bree Larson) hijacks the funeral with an elaborate performance with Ninja Paparazzi in tow. Meanwhile invites are sent, and the league are assembled to Graves’s lair. We are reintroduced to the league, Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), Lesbian Roxie Richter (Mae Whitman), Super vegan Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh) and that Katayanagi Twins, Ken, and Kyle, with their new creation in tow, Robot-01.  Matthew’s win has left him full of hubris as he organizes the meeting, learns that Gideon was merely going to use all the Exes as pawns to get Ramona back. Matthew challenges Gideon for control of the league, under certain terms, and after an elaborate fight, Matthew wins and forces Gideon to sign away his vast fortune to him. 

All the fight sequences are highly inventive and fun throughout the series. Ramona’s dream connection to Scott, and their interdimensional highway, makes her realize that he is still alive. In this episode Ramona takes agency of her life. There is a phenomenon known as the ‘dream pixie girl’, where men pine for some idealized women. In the original, men fight to take ownership of Ramona, but this is reversed here. At this point, there is a thematic hint towards “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946) where people explore what life would be like without Scott. 

In “Ramona Rents A Video” she takes matters into her own hand, after visiting the club and checking the surveillance videos, she visit’s Julie at the video store, get’s a breakdown of all of Scott’s friends to find motives, and details about those she knows all too well, her evil exes. We also shift to the home of Young Neil, who is inspired to write a screenplay, but after suffering from his paralysis demon one night, he awakes to find a full screen play fully written. The episode brings about the first emotional resolution at Julie’s video store, when Roxie Richter appears and attacks Ramona, the fight leading them into jumping into various movie settings with some dazzling sequences. The emotional exchanges between Ramona and Roxie are some of the highlights of the series. 

Ramona’s next mission leads into the backstory for Lucas Lee with the episode “Whatever”, In Hollywood, Lucas’s agent is warning him that his skater boy antics could get him out of the business if he doesn’t behave as he is sent to Toronto. Young Neil’s script, “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life” is being financed by a major studio, in very much a send up of the Hollywood industry and Edgar Wrigth’s film. There’s also some fun ribbing about Edgar Wright in the episode. Ramona get’s past security posing as a stunt person, Wallace visits the set, and hijacks the actor cast to play him, and ends up getting cast as himself. Lucas is cast as Scott, after a visit from Ramona, he fights Ninja Paparazzi and his fired from the project. The studio lot is filled with pop culture props including King Ghidorah.

Todd Ingram is brought in to play the role of Scott with Envy playing Ramona, which leads to a strange series of seductions by Wallace towards Todd, which also has the most cartoonish fun.  “Lights, Camera, Sparks?” pretty much depicts the feature project shutting down, while the real Ramona tries to get near Todd, Wallace and Todd’s fling leads to Todd’s ruin, with Envy in a rage and having Ramona fight Walaces stunt doubles. Eventually Ramona learns that Todd wasn’t put up to using his vegan powers and create the portal that snatched Scott away. 

It is also around this point that Knives Chau is allowed some real character development. She discovers she’s adept at bass guitar, jams with drummer Kim in a liberating moment. Which leads to Steven discovering her abilities as she is adept at Piano as well. She takes on her own agency, she just doesn’t pine for Scott, and no longer just a superfan for Sex Bob Bomb, she grows. It is also endearing that Steven doesn’t pine for her, but is interested in her talent, they become a creative team that plays a major role going forward. Matthew shuts down the film, but not before Knives and Stephen makes a proposal to Matthew. Ramona learns through Matthew - after her reveal that Scott is still alive - she learns about Gideon / Gordon and Julie Powers. 

In “WHODIDIT”, we get the back story of the down and out Gideon and his new ally Lucas Lee, After Ramona learns that Gideon was not behind the portal, she assumes it would have to be the Katayanagi Twins and their mysterious robot companion who is seen throughout episodes. The gang of Stephen, Kim, Knives and Young Neil learn and reveal the “Precious Life” script was written by someone fourteen years into the future. While at Ramona’s place, just as this is all unfolding, there’s a knock at the door and Scott is alive. 

His tale is told in “2 Scott 2 Pilgrim”, when the 37-year-old Scott had kidnapped him and brought him into the future of Ontario, where they meet an older Wallace who’s wealthy husband works for Nintendo. Scott is shown a Virtual Reality simulator where he learns about their lives, the events from ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs The World’, their future marriage and alleged divorce.  

The older Scott is friends of Ken and Kyle and through their robot, they invent a time travel portal. But the motives become clear after Scott is served a social drink – that becomes important later- the older Scott has taken the twenty-three-year-old Scott to get him to end the relationship, that it wasn’t worth it. He tried to change events so that Ramona and Scott would never meet and break each other’s hearts. This reminds me, thematically of “Eternal Sunrise of The Spotless Mind” 2004, erasing the past to avoid pain. Of course, the intent is folly. The Robot 01 shares with Scott VR images of Ramona’s efforts to find him back in the present., which makes Scott realize the fight for them is worth it. Wallace takes Scott to the older Ramona who has time travel abilities where she learns of the older Scott’s plan. There’s a delightful ‘Back to the Future’ here. 

The finale, “The World Vs Scott Pilgrim” pretty much plays out in what you expect, but when Scott and Ramona try to kiss, an anti-kiss field has been generated to stop them from kissing. They have to meet with all of the evil exes to find out who is behind this AK field, and the opportunity is there when Matthew Patel’s financed musical version of “Precious Little Life” is debuting with Matthew playing the role of Scott. Gideon and Julie plan to bomb the stage with a remote, but near the climax of the show, a strange energy bubble envelops the whole gang into a dream like world, and it is learned that an even older Scott was behind the AK field to stop them from dating, and he has to battle the entire circle to make certain the future never happens, even after Ramona gives the evil exes and friends powers, The older Scott sends them all back to the present as Scott and Ramona faces him alone. 

An even older Ramona saves them and confronts the Older Scott, where it’s learned Scott assumes it was a divorce when it wasn’t, just a break. Both Ramona’s fuse together and everyone is sent back to their proper time and space. Scott and Ramona commit to not repeating the mistakes of the future. The epilogue features developments for all of the characters. There is a lack of character development for Envy Adams, and the arc for Gideon Graves, after losing everything and regaling it back, seems to revert to old his self, this may have to do with the brevity of the series over eight episodes. 

Animators Science Saru has used mixed various visual techniques to give the series vitality. Aside from staying to faithful to O’Malley’s graphic look, the team also borrows from other anime styles, and a few of the fight sequences briefly uses a pixilated style that nods to the original Scott Pilgrim game. There is also a good use changing frame ratios and depth of field focus between characters.  Music has always been an important element with this property. Nineties Canadian underground band Plumtree’s song inspired the name of the title character, and Edgar Wright was faithful to the punk aesthetic in his 2010 film. In their new series, Anamanaguchi, and the Japanese act Necry Talkie provide the most interesting material. 

Even Bryan Lee O’Malley has admitted that the new series was a commentary of his relationship problems in his forties with his wife, much in the same way that the original comic reflected his experiences in his 20s. Yet the series doesn’t manage to be preachy or sermonizing, but real in it’s depiction about young, selfish, and flawed characters, yet the sleight of hand of the story telling never loses it’s fun or energy. This series has rewards for the viewer that make it worth the visit. Tne concerns of the nineties and two thousands were not any different than what we are facing today, and just a reminder of the commonality of our flawed humanity. 


Thursday, January 25, 2024

50 Years Ago: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)


Released fifty years ago,  in 1974, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is my Sinbad movie.  I saw it theatrically as a five-year old, and was absolutely mesmerized by the sword-fights, the Ray Harryhausen monster action (filmed in stop-motion called "Dynarama") and the fantasy setting, on the lost island of Lemuria.

Even though I  boast a strong childhood connection to this film, however, I still maintain that it is actually superior, quality-wise, to both its predecessor, 1958's 7th Voyage of Sinbad and its successor, 1977's Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.  


This is so largely because the screenplay is far more consistent regarding its villain, Koura (Tom Baker) and his powers, and even is largely consistent in terms of the monsters Sinbad encounters: they are manifestations of the sorcerer's power, not just random beasts walking around.

In the film, Koura establishes that to "summon the demons of darkness there is a price...it consumes part of me," and that line is a key to much of the film's action and narrative.  Koura seeks an ancient Lemurian amulet (shattered into three pieces) because by using his dark forces, he has aged himself...his life-force ebbs.  The tablet will lead him to a fountain of youth where he can rejuvenate himself.  

In terms of the monsters, save for a centaur and a griffin, Sinbad battles monsters that Koura puts up to block the sailor's path; to stop him from finding the fountain first.  These monsters include a tiny, flying harpie (shades of Jason of the Argonauts), a ship's mast/statue come to life, and a multi-armed statue of Kali.  The lengthy, incredibly-rendered sword-fight with Kali is the undisputed highlight of the film, a terrific set-piece that still captures the imagination.  


But the point is that Koura's magic is used to a specific end, and consistently so, throughout the film.  If you look back at Sakurah in 7th Voyage of Sinbad (played brilliantly by the great Torin Thatcher), he merely wanted a genie lamp and would stop at nothing to get it, and then happened to keep a dragon as a pet in his subterranean headquarters on the island of the Cyclops.

These ideas didn't stick together as well as those you find here, and we did not understand the nature of Sakurah's evil; his motivation for it. His power also seemed to have no downside or cost.  Worse, Sinbad seemed to interact with Sakurah as if he trusted him for much of the film, when it it was obvious to everyone with eyes that he was evil...or at least scheming  There was some screenplay...muddle there.

In The Golden Voyage, Koura's quest is plain, and he even becomes a somewhat sympathetic character because we know and understand what he is after, and what is at stake for him if he fails. He's a great villain, and Tom Baker is terrific in the role. After watching Dr. Who for all these years, I had forgotten how masterfully he could turn his charismatic screen presence sinister.

Unlike its predecessor, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad also reveals some of the flavor of Sinbad's ancient world -- like the fact that he is a Muslim -- by allowing him to utter comments about and proverbs from Allah. This may sound like a small or inconsequential thing, but 7th Voyage of Sinbad essentially made Sinbad an American cowboy in classical Baghdad, one heading-up what became a 1950s American nuclear family. He had no colors, no shades, no sense of being from somewhere other than America.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad isn't about Islam in any meaningful way, but it acknowledges at least, the truth that Sinbad originates from a different cultural tradition than many of those in the audience. Today, with all the rampant Islamophobia, I doubt even the harmless mentions of Allah and religion in Golden Voyage of Sinbad would be permitted in a mainstream film, which is a sad development.  The history of the world, and the history of mythology, shouldn't be a football for contemporary ideological differences...but they are. Sinbad comes to us from a defined time, place and tradition in the world, and to ignore his place of origin is like ignoring the fact that Clark Kent was raised in Smallville, or that James Bond is English.


I also appreciate The Golden Voyage of Sinbad more than the other Sinbad films for two further, specific reasons. First, it actually differentiates between the crew men on Sinbad's vessel, offering us some comic relief in the form of one man. This is important. In the other two Sinbad films, the crew men have no personalities, no differentiation, and no memorable identities.

And secondly The Golden Voyage allows Sinbad -- this time John Phillip Law -- to be a little less wholesome and pure. Here, he brings Caroline Munro's slave girl, Margiana, along to Lemuria, and it's not because she plays a good game of chess, if you know what I mean. There's some (harmless) sexual innuendo, obviously, and as an adult, that's far more interesting to watch than the innocent, "pure" love of Sinbad and his betrothed (nowhere in sight here, by the way....) in 7th Voyage.   

What I'm getting at in this review, without offending anyone, I hope, is that The Golden Voyage of Sinbad -- perhaps owing to its post-James Bond milieu -- is a bit less simplistic in narrative, in style, and in detail than its esteemed and rightly-appreciated predecessor.   

The message here is that evil -- though powerful in allure -- carries a "weight" or "cost," and that's a terrific message to impart to children learning the differences between right and wrong.   The sub-plot involving a prince in a mask, Vizier (Douglas Wilmer), also conveys a nice little lesson.  Though ugly on the outside (because of burns inflicted by Koura), Vizier is beautiful on the inside...and that beauty eventually comes to the surface.  

And by the way, I noted with interest that the moment here wherein Vizier removes his golden mask and stuns the hostile natives of Lemuria was repeated hook, line and sinker in the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode "Journey to Oasis," with Mark Lenard.  

Good ideas in the genre never die...they just get recycled.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

My Father's Journal: "Snapshots"

(JKM's Note: As some of you are aware, my 80-year old father, Ken Muir, has entered a new phase in his long battle with cancer. Last summer, he began to maintain a journal of his thoughts during these days,  and I wanted to share them with readers while he is still with us.  Why? He is a teacher to me, and my family, and he mentored a generation of students at Mountain Lakes High School through the 1970's and 1980s.  To many, he is still a mentor.

This is the first of a series, and my father has titled his journal "Reflections and Observations as Night Draws Nigh")

He begins the journal with a preface called "Ice Floe," in which he writes the following:

"Do not judge me by anything that I now write or fail to write. Judge me, rather, by what I have been and done o'er the long years before now. See the record, not today's man. For today, I am just a panicky old man perched on an ice floe, watching the outer edges rapidly melt away and fall."

With that introduction, I include now a piece from my father about the change he has witnessed over his 80 years on this Earth.

 Snapshots

By Ken Muir

A century ago, the majority of Americans still lived on farms. When I was born in 1943, a quick generation later, much of that America still existed; unpainted clapboard homes, barns, outdoor privies, free-standing wooden structures for tractors or automobiles. Perched on scraggly or non-existent lawns and surrounded by unkempt fences, America's homes, many of them still rural, mirrored the struggle for survival known as The Great Depression.

Burma Shave signs littered the rural byways. Packard, Nash, Studebaker, Hudson, Pontiac, Mercury, Plymouth, DeSoto, Kaiser, and Oldsmobile still produced new cars every year for Americans. 99.5% of the cars on the market were American-made. Whoever heard of a Japanese automobile? The only chain of restaurants and hotels in the country was Howard Johnsons. No one had ever heard of "fast food" restaurants.

The country's population stood at 130 million.

Fast forward now to the snapshot of America today. Fewer than 2% of Americans live on farms. Teeming suburbs and cities house most of our population of 300 million people, and unbelievable wealth in the form of luxury automobiles and large, well-appointed homes is all around us. A typical middle class home today costs 20 to 30 times as much as it cost during that a first decade after WWII.

Building on its overwhelming global victory in World War II, America has advanced to levels of material prosperity unparalleled in human history. Levels of affluence and comfort that were only fanciful dreams in 1950 have now become everyday expectations. A college education, a prize within the reach of only a few Americans before the Second World War, has now become so commonplace as to be discounted in importance by increasing numbers of misguided citizens. Computational power available only by filling an entire large room with the early ENIAC and UNIVAC computers is now dwarfed by the computing power held in a person's hand.

Technology now, almost entirely digital, calls almost all the tunes in today's America. It facilitates most all aspects of our lives and in many realms of life it literally dictate the terms. Go anywhere, indoors or out, and observe a citizenry so intent on their phones that they are oblivious to the natural and social worlds around them.

I have no idea where all this leads.

I do know that much has been lost along with these technological and material gains. The face to face interaction, the human contact which digital communication and information dissemination diminish or eliminate, is a growing and vital loss. (As a person dying from cancer, I learn anew each week the delights, the rewards that come from decent people reaching out in face-to-face contact to let me know they care about me. They do not say it in so many words, they show it by their behavior.)

And almost as important, the pell-mell movement away from intimate personal contact with our physical world has accelerated. As one who loves the out-of-doors, who is spiritually liberated by a day in the woods, I know the value of this part of being human. And we are losing it rapidly. 

These are starting and ending snapshots for me, the America I arrived in and the America I depart from. What a rapidly changing reality! Best wishes to all of you as you continue to confront it and shape it for your existence.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

50 Years Ago Today: The Questor Tapes (1974)

"I have seen much to criticize in mankind, but I believe there's even more to admire..."

-Questor (Robert Foxworth) in The Questor Tapes, by Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon. 


May I introduce you to Lt. Data's father?

This Hugo Award-nominated TV pilot, which first aired on American television fifty years ago, on January 23, 1974, represents another Gene Roddenberry attempt to craft a successful science fiction TV series after Star Trek (and following the failure of pilots including Genesis II and Planet Earth).

In The Questor Tapes, however, Roddenberry abandoned the "future world scenario" of Star Trek and both PAX TV movies and instead focused on the idea of an artificial man -- an android -- who, with great benevolence, would guide the human race through his troubled "infancy" in the twentieth century.

Thirteen episodes of the series were actually written, and NBC green lit The Questor Tapes, even officially granting it a time-slot: Friday nights at 10:00 pm. However, before the series could air, various behind-the-scenes factions fought a fatal tug-of-war, attempting to skew the fledgling series in a new direction, making it more like The Fugitive (1964-1968) or The Six-Million Dollar Man (1973-1978).

Roddenberry stuck to his guns...and walked away. His series was never produced. However, the pilot was novelized by D.C. Fontana in a book based on the script by Gene Coon and Gene Roddenberry. And even today, many fans fondly remember The Questor Tapes.



The Questor Tapes opens at "Project Questor," inside a highly-advanced surgical operating theatre on a college campus, where Dr. Jerry Robinson (Mike Farrell) and a team of scientists (including Majel Barrett Roddenberry) attempt to bring an android -- Questor -- to full consciousness.

This is a more difficult task than it sounds, however, because Questor's actual creator, Dr. Vaslovik (Lew Ayres) is missing and "presumed dead." The mystery man disappeared three years ago, without a trace. Questor, Vaslovik's child, is not well-understood by either the high-IQ Robinson or the other international scientists (James Shigeta, Fred Sadoff). Project Leader Darrow (John Vernon), fears that Questor is a "billion dollar pile of junk."

Questor rejects all programming tapes except the one created specifically by Vaslovik. Vaslovik's programming includes a background in "logic, law" and forensic medicine, among other things. Questor also boasts knowledge of "international laws and procedures."


Even after successful programming, Questor does not appear to operate normally. This vexes Robinson, who considers himself a "puzzle solver" and "gifted mechanic." A disappointed Darrow immediately seizes on the idea of selling Questor's valuable parts (like his stomach -- an amazing "nuclear furnace") to international bidders.

While unguarded and unsupervised, Questor (Robert Foxworth) activates himself, modifies himself to appear human (replete with skin imperfections), and leaves the facility. His overriding purpose is to locate his "creator," Vaslovik. Unfortunately, Vaslovik's programming tape was corrupted and now Questor does not possess human emotions, a fact he laments. "Is it possible, I was meant to feel?" He wonders.

Without programming to help him understand emotions and experience a sense of morality, Questor abducts Jerry Robinson and demands that the human being become his "guide" in such matters. Robinson isn't sure at first about befriending a "an ambulatory computer device," but soon realizes he has a responsibility to help the Questor "child" discover his creator, and find an "explanation" for himself.

Alas, Questor has limited time to complete his mission. If he does not locate the missing Vaslovik in three days, he will self-destruct...literally becoming a nuclear bomb.

After a jaunt to London in which Questor and Jerry meet Lady Helena (Dayna Winter), Vaslovik's courtesan, they proceed by jet to remote Turkey...to the very mountains where Noah's Ark is believed to have crashed. There, in a deep mountain cavern, Questor finally meets his creator, Vaslovik, and learns of both his origin and purpose.

Vaslovik and Questor are both androids of extra-terrestrial design. These androids (who build their own replacements before they expire...) have been protecting and guiding the human race in secret for 200 millennia. Questor is the last android of the line, because after his span (a duration of 200 years...), mankind will have outgrown a turbulent childhood and will no longer require safeguarding.

Unfortunately, Vaslovik can not provide Questor what the android desires most: human emotions. Although he would "trade anything to feel; to be human," Questor will have to continue to rely on his friend, Robinson, for an understanding of the human equation...



Had there been a Questor series, it would have picked up there: with Jerry and Questor "guiding" but not interfering with man as he broached international crises and problems that could threaten the human race.

In the pilot, we are introduced to what would have been an important set: Vaslovik's Information Center, a control room hidden in Lady Helena's wine cellar. From that location, Questor can monitor important locations worldwide (including the U.S. Congress), as well as private locations...like, uh, bedrooms...

The Questor Tapes is an almost perfect representation of the Gene Roddenberry aesthetic. There is (gentle...) criticism of 20th century industrial/technological mankind here, his "squalor...ugliness...greed...struggles." 


Yet this damning view is balanced and tempered by an essential optimism about intrinsic human nature. Our "greatest accomplishment," declares Questor is "our ability to love one another."


Questor is a character much like Mr. Spock or Lt. Data -- an outsider who is nonetheless fascinated by mankind. The perspective as "outsider" permits Questor, Data or Spock to be both critical and positive about the human race, without any of it seeming personal, political or petty. Like Spock, Questor is dedicated to logic, and uses that word (logic) frequently. "Logic indicates the simplest plan is often the best," etc. And also like Spock, Questor is peaceful. He is not programmed to kill, yet he can incapacitate enemies with the equivalent of a "nerve pinch."

But if Questor is a child of Spock, he is also the father of Data. There can be little doubt of that. Questor desires to be human, just like Data, and wants to understand humor. "Humor is a quality which seems to elude me," he tells Jerry at one point. 



Also, like Data, Questor is a sexual being, and this facet of his personality also conforms to an essential quality of all Roddenberry productions: kinkiness. To get information out of Lady Helena Trimble, Questor -- an android -- makes love to her. Beforehand, he tells her that he is...um..."fully functional." Next Generation fans will recognize that particular turn of phrase from Data's seduction of Tasha Yar in the first season episode "The Naked Now."

In another scene from The Questor Tapes, Jerry and Questor visit a European casino and Questor learns that the House is cheating, utilizing fake dice. The android is able to beat the cheaters by adjusting the balance of the dice. In the second season episode of The Next Generation titled "The Royale," Data does precisely the same thing.

The Questor Tapes has aged poorly in a few, minor ways...all mostly visual. For instance, a close-up glimpse of Questor's high-tech interior reveals a rotary telephone cord. And the very idea that "tapes" would carry an android's programming? Well, that is passe, of course too. Even Vaslovik's Information Center is obviously pre-world-wide-web.

Yet none of that matters in the slightest. 


What matters here, and what grants The Questor Tapes a real "heart" is the relationship at the forefront of the production: the friendship between a human (Jerry) and a machine (Questor). There's funny banter and quiet affection there, and the relationship will remind you (in a positive, not derivative...) way of the long-lived Kirk/Spock friendship. It's different in that Jerry has no authority over Questor: he's a teacher in the subject of humanity, not a commanding officer. Despite the difference, there's definitely charm here.

I also appreciate the real and deep sense of compassion that Roddenberry and Coon bring to all their characters in The Questor Tapes. Lady Helena (Wynter), who is scandalously introduced as an aristocratic courtesan, is actually a woman of tremendous depth, intelligence and loyalty. And even the TV movie's villain, Darrow, is treated with compassion. When Darrow realizes that the military is going to discover Questor and dis-assemble him, Vernon sacrifices himself. He takes a tracer, flies Questor's jet...and dies when the air force blows it up.

Roddenberry watchers will also recognize other recurring themes here. The idea of an alien race peacefully guiding humanity out of his adolescence is straight out of Star Trek's "Assignment Earth" (story by Roddenberry; teleplay by Art Wallace.)

And the idea of a robot/android searching for his "creator" has been the core idea of original Star Trek episodes ("The Changeling" by John Meredyth Lucas) movies (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) and Next Generation installments ("Datalore," "Brothers," etc.)

What I enjoyed most about the "search for creator" subplot in Questor was this notion that it is a metaphor for man's search for his creator...for our God (a plot point that forecasts Prometheus [2012]). At one point in the pilot, Questor must grapple with the notion that his creator (Vaslovik) is insane. This possibility is suggested by Jerry. Interestingly, Questor turns the concept around on Robinson and asks him: what if our creator (God...) is insane too? Robinson doesn't have an answer for that.

Roddenberry might have gotten away with that subtle swipe at religion in 1974, but I wonder if Questor could get it by censors today. In fact, it is rumored that one of the reasons that The Questor Tapes never materialized as a series is that NBC executives were uncomfortable with the concept - stated here - that aliens, not a Christian God, were overseeing mankind's development. The network was apparently afraid that Questor would be deemed the "Anti-Christ" by some viewers.

In recent years, there has been some movement (after Roddenberry's death in 1991) to revive The Questor Tapes concept as a series. I'd still love to see it happen. Today, more than ever, I think mankind could use Questor's help.

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