Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Thief from Outer Space" (November 9, 1966)

In “The Thief from Outer Space,” the “terror of the cosmos” -- An Arab Chieftain (Malachi Throne) and his slave (Ted Cassidy) -- land on the Robinsons’ planet to rob it blind. 

Instead, Will (Bill Mumy) ends up on the thief’s orbiting asteroid, the slave of a slave. He is immediately put to work tending to the space Arab’s furnace.

But after Penny (Angela Cartwright) is captured, the Thief recruits Will to find the treasure he seeks.  
For generations, he has searched for a beautiful, missing princess. He believes a golden arrow points to her location, the Robinsons’ planet.

Meanwhile, the slave mistakes Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) for an all-power vizier who once owned him, until the thief stole him away. Smith uses this case of mistaken identity to escape from death by pendulum, and confront the Thief.

An episode like “The Thief from Outer Space” pretty well does away with any pretense that Lost in Space (1965-1968) is a science fiction series about space age pioneers. 

Here, the characters refer to themselves as castaways (like the characters on Gilligan’s Island), and the story and situations are pure cornball fantasy, without scientific grounding of any sort.

Without explanation or reason, humanoids in this episode can survive on rogue asteroids (where the atmosphere, surely, would turn to ice, given significant distance from the nearest star), while other characters are trapped inside bottles, like the djinn of legend. There’s no discussion of miniaturization or suspended animation or any other sci-fi concept that could explain this development.  It’s just taken as true, and real. Thus…fantasy.

“The Thief from Outer Space” descends into high-camp in several scenes, as Will and Penny are forced to peddle a stationary bike to power the Thief’s “furnace,” which heats the air on his asteroid.  That furnace, a bunch of unconnected left-over props from other episodes, can warm the air, but certainly it can’t maintain an atmosphere.

I can accept the “sedan” spaceship that is featured here, since it is described as an “interdimensional space transporter,” but it’s the only item or vehicle that’s given any kind of scientific explanation -- or cover -- in an episode of magic bottles, magic rings, and let’s face it, antiquated ethnic stereotypes.

I’m not a person, or critic, who believes that it is appropriate to judge older films or movies by today’s standards of propriety.  Morals and our understanding of cultural differences grow over time.  

So you can’t blame an episode like “The Thief from Outer Space” -- made circa 1966 -- for accurately reflecting the widespread beliefs of its age, the 1960s. 

But suffice it to say that this episode tosses out cultural stereotypes about Arabs (“Farewell, infidels!) at the very same time it fat-shames the princess in a bottle. After two hundred years she’s gotten fat from eating marzipan.

Forget the ethnic stereotypes though, the fat princess is a lame, one-note joke, and at the end of the episode, she is trapped in the bottle again, because the Thief dispensed with her after deeming her fat. 


The Thief fares a little better, after one gets over his blatantly stereotyped presentation. He emerges from his two-dimensional manner of speak and wardrobe to reveal, in the end, some true humanity. “I’m running out of tricks,” he tells Will gravely, revealing a lonely, desperate man. This is the beset scene in the show because it explores the character as a human being, not as a flamboyant adventure-fantasy stereotype.

As usual -- at least in the second season -- Lost in Space can’t be bothered to maintain much continuity, episode to episode.  For example, Will tells the thief that the Robinsons are alone on the planet, but what Tiabo (Wally Cox), the lonely soldier from “The Forbidden World?”  Isn’t he still on the planet, making reports back to his planet, and watching the Robinsons? Or are we supposed to forget him, the way the series forget the alien soldiers of the episode “The Lost Civilization?”

The regular characters aren’t well-presented in this story, either.  John (Guy Williams), Maureen (June Lockhart), and Penny at first refuse to believe Will’s story of a cosmic thief. 


In the last several weeks alone these doubting Thomases have encountered space prospectors (“Blast off into Space,”) space carnies (“Circus in Space,”), space boxers and wrestlers (“The Deadly Games of Gamma Six,”) and even space department store managers (“The Android Machine.”)  And before that, they encountered a cowboy astronaut (“Welcome Stranger,”) space hillbillies (“The Space Croppers,”) a space zookeeper ("The Keeper,") and a space pirate (“The Sky Pirate.”) 

But “The Thief from Outer Space” nonetheless wants us to believe they absolutely draw the line at space Arabs?

All in all, “The Thief from Outer Space” manages to be not just bad, but frequently insulting too. Still, it's always great to see Ted Cassidy. And "The Thief from Outer Space" aired just a few weeks after his appearance as Ruk on Star Trek's "What are Little Girls Made Of."

Next week: “Curse of Cousin Smith.”

Cult-Movie Review: Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

I am as surprised to be writing these words as you may be to read them: Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) is a strong and worthwhile entry in the durable (but aging…) horror franchise.

As you may recall, the first Insidious (2011) cravenly cribbed its entire story structure -- and much of its narrative detail -- from Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982).

Lin Shaye’s Elise Rainer -- a medium or sensitive -- was the equivalent of Dr. Lesh and Tangina, for example.  She even arrived on site with two ghost hunters who doubled as comic relief and monster fodder. And the child trapped in “The Further” (the astral plane”) in the 2011 film was much like Carol Anne on “the other side” in the Poltergeist franchise.

Yet despite the obvious and multitudinous connections to Poltergeist, I also felt that Insidious featured many effective moments .In particular, I liked the Old Crone monster and felt she was fearsome in appearance and presence.

My feeling for Insidious 2 (2013) are much less fond. The film explained too much, and wasn’t as scary as it should have been. The last act was a bit of a mess, too.

But Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) doesn’t go overboard explaining its central monster -- a creepy ghoul wearing a dirty hospital gown and a breathing mask -- and simultaneously offers a remarkably meaty and nuanced role for the great Lin Shaye. Shaye has very much become the franchise’s most valuable player at this point, and is a delightful modern equivalent to Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) in the original Halloween films.  She is a voice of authority and exposition, but also a unique and individual personality.

At this stage, I’d say you can’t make one of these movies without Liz Shaye. In many ways, she is the heart and soul of this third film.

Now before anyone claims I’ve gone soft, I won’t argue that Insidious: Chapter 3 is a particularly deep or resonant horror movie, only that it is an entertaining and occasionally touching one. The film features several technically-accomplished jump scares, and offers a re-assuring, only occasionally schmaltzy view of the after-life and its denizens.

While I absolutely prefer my horror films with big doses of psychological friction (The Babadook [2014], It Follows [2015] and carefuly imagery that helps to convey the story in symbolic ways (Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story), I am not such a curmudgeon that I don’t appreciate a well-made mainstream horror film.

And that’s what this is. Nothing more, nothing less.

Rewardingly, Insidious 3 doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator, and actually features an innovative twist or too.  It could have been a whole lot worse.

“When you go there…things come back with you.”

Sometime before the Lambert haunting, Elise (Shaye) mourns the suicide of her beloved husband, and gives up her life as a medium; going so far as to lock up her basement reading room.

But one day, Elise is visited by a kind young woman, Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) who wants to have a reading done. Quinn’s mother has passed away from cancer, and she is desperate to make contact with her.

Elise warns Quinn that the living should not “call out” to the dead, because all of the dead hear that call.

A few days later, Quinn begins to see a strange specter -- a creepy man in a hospital gown -- and is struck by a car.  She is released from the hospital, but both her legs are broken, meaning she is now a virtual prisoner in her apartment, which she shares with her father, Sean (Dermot Mulroney) and younger brother, Alex (Tate Berney). 

The dark specter, however, has latched on to her, and wants to capture and keep her soul in a dark corner of the Nether.

Elise attempts to help Quinn, but keeps encountering her own personal demon, one who assures the medium that she will be the cause of her eventual demise…

"Loving someone is just delayed pain.”

The creepiest and most effective moments in Insidious: Chapter 3 revolve around Quinn, and her worsening physical condition. 

The car accident that injures Quinn is shockingly rendered (and brutal), but an extended scene in her bedroom, in the dark, is absolutely the stuff of nightmares.  The demon is there with her in the room and skitters under her bed in one scene. As the demon stalks her, Quinn is veritably paralyzed and unable to escape.  The monster throws her off the bed and -- taking its sweet time with her -- proceeds to close her in the bed-room, shut down her computer, and pull the curtains.  We see the creature make these rounds, all while Quinn is powerless to stop it.  The scene builds and builds to crescendo of terror.

Two other jump scares are also brilliantly orchestrated, and achieve their desired impact.  One involves Elise walking alone, into her reading room.  She descends into the room (which is in the basement of her house), and follows goopy, mysterious footprints to a dark corner.  What happens next made me jump out of my chair.

Elise’s flashlight catches the path of the footprints as they, oddly, go up a wall.  And then…

Well, you get it.

The other most notable scare involves a swooping camera which peers out of an open window several stories up.  The first time the camera peers out the window, there is a body down at street level, in the dark…apparently pulped on the sidewalk. 

The second time the camera peers out the window, the jump scare occurs, and it’s a doozy as well. 

There is an algebraic equation to such jump scares, of course.  It was explained to me, many years back, by Evil Dead composer Joseph LoDuca.  Specifically, the equation involves the use of sound, and the lowering of the volume right before the “jump.” And that jump, of course, is accompanied by sudden increased volume of sound.  It’s not rocket science, I suppose, but the fact remains: all of Insidious: Chapter 3’s jump scares work flawlessly.

The creative twist I mentioned above involves Quinn’s wounds. After having both her legs broken, she injures her neck, and must wear a brace. So she becomes, over the course of the film, a practical invalid, even as she is stalked by the ‘foul creature’ from The Further.  It is quite compelling, and original the way the film makes Quinn progressively more vulnerable at the same time that the creature becomes a more overt danger. 

What I enjoyed and admired most about Insidious: Chapter 3, however, is Elise’s story.  The first scene in the film is but a nice, long conversation between Elise and Quinn, in Elise’s art nouveau home.  The scene takes its time, is well-directed and strongly-performed, and feels no pressure whatsoever to wow us or scare us.  I thought for sure the film would begin with an elaborate death scene.

But that’s not the case.

Too often, mainstream horror movies these days seem to think they must start at a fever pitch, continue at a fever-pitch, and end at one as well.  By contrast, this sequel opens with a sedentary scene and an intimate conversation that establishes character.  It eschews the fireworks.  It reacquaints us with Elise, and sets up her struggle in the film before launching into the terror.

Lin Shaye, I should add, has grown in into the role of Elise Rainer in a most remarkable fashion. This film gives audiences her best performance in the role. Shaye makes great use of her physicality (a vulnerability?) here, and also has learned how to turn and twist the dialogue to bring out more humor, and more pathos.  The Loomis comparison is a valuable one, I feel.  Shaye has taken a one-off supporting role and fashioned it into a full-blooded, multi-dimensional, central one.  In the earlier films, I sometimes felt that some notes Shaye hit rang hollow, but not here.  Shaye -- and Elise too -- have become nothing less than genre treasures.

The film’s central villain is a good one too, in part because the filmmakers don’t feel it necessary to create a whole psychological background or motivation for him.  He’s a terrible, sick thing, and one that creates fear in us because there are things about him we don’t know

Again, I often write here about how we don’t fear those things we can quantify and explain.  No, we fear the things that feel alien and unknown to us.  Too much back-story kills the fear.

The horrible thing or specter in Insidious 3 remains mostly mysterious.  When we first see it -- merely a silhouette waving to us in a dark auditorium -- we get a sense of its complete and utter wrongness.  Its terror grows from there, and is never sacrificed by an orgy of explanation or flashbacks.

There are some aspects of this sequel (and franchise) that still rub me the wrong way. In general, I dislike the treacly, sentimental, Touched by an Angel-type stuff wherein a ghost from the other side shows up -- all glowing and ethereal -- to help at a crucial moment.  I could also do without the occasions when a dead loved one leaves behind a “sign” for the living to see, so that the mourning character can soldier on in this mortal coil with the knowledge that everything is okay.

For me, horror simply doesn’t need to concern such re-assurances.  There are other genres that do fine with that concept.

But I understand that, as a mainstream horror series, Insidious must apparently scare its audience and then re-establish order and security before the end credits.  The great horror films don’t feel it necessary to provide that kind of closure or peace (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1973], Psycho [1960]), but…fine.

Long story short: Insidious: Chapter 3, made me jump five times in 98 minutes, and proved a good showcase for Lin Shaye’s talents.

And let’s be brutally honest: how often do modern horror movies focus on a 71-year old woman as the lead character and primary mover of the action?  This film should be lauded for not playing it safe, and for making Elise Rainer the center of the action.

And, finally, the sequel’s narrative was creative enough -- and featured enough ambiguity regarding its monster -- to keep me engaged.

Loving someone might be “delayed pain,” but Insidious: Chapter 3 is loveable enough, with no real pain involved at all. Instead, you may feel satisfaction that you have watched an effective, entertaining horror film. 

Three films into a popular franchise, that’s not a small or inconsiderable feat.

Movie Trailer: Insidious Chapter 3 (2015)

Monday, October 05, 2015

Ask JKM a Question: Which Movie Franchise Should be Resurrected Next?

A reader named Ellen writes:

“With the return of Mad Max, Poltergeist and Jurassic Park this past summer, what movie franchise would you like most to see resurrected and why?”

Ellen, that’s a great question, but in a way also a difficult one to answer too. As your words suggest, everything old is indeed new again. 

Star Wars is back. Star Trek is back. Terminator is back too.

Planet of the Apes is ongoing, and in the last five or six years, such sturdy horror franchises as Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th (2009) and Child’s Play have all had entries made as well. 

A new Phantasm is in the offing, a new Alien is coming soon, and The Evil Dead and The X-Files are landing on TV soon.

It is a time of absolute plenty for long-time franchise fans, and I’m not complaining at all. I’m eagerly looking forward to the return of classic movie series and TV shows in these various formats.
But accordingly, it is difficult to think of a movie franchise that hasn’t returned to life of late. Of course, I would love to see Millennium (1996 – 1999) revived as either a movie or TV series, but it isn’t technically a movie franchise, so that doesn’t answer your question, specifically.

Reaching back into my own youth, I suppose one possibility is Logan’s Run.

I was a fan of both the 1976 movie starring Michael York and the short-run TV series, as well as all the books.  There’s plenty of material to mine in a Logan’s Run update, and there have been discussions about remaking that film for at least fifteen years, with no apparent progress.  I would love to see a new Logan’s Run, perhaps one based very closely on the book (making 21 the age of Last Day instead of 30), in part because our culture is so youth-centric.  I feel a strong work of art could be made if it focuses on the idea of what is lost in a civilization obsessed with youth.

Also, I would love to see sequels to Big Trouble in Little China (1986), and John Carter (2012).  On the former front, Kurt Russell still looks fantastic, and he could easily spearhead another Jack Burton film or two.  And John Carter has a rich literary legacy upon which to craft many sequels. 

Others may quibble with my next choice, but I can’t help but long for a Back to the Future IV, as well.  It could feature an older Marty McFly taking one last time travel trip with the Doc to save the future.  I know some see the BTTF trilogy as a perfect franchise in no need of a new chapter.  But Zemeckis is such a strong filmmaker in terms of how he deploys new and developing technologies, and it would be fascinating to watch how a Back to the Future IV weaves in and out of the existing trilogy as it stands today.

Otherwise, I can’t think of many classic movie franchises that are dormant at the moment.

How does Jaws V: The Next Generation (Like Father Like Son…) grab you?

Nah, I didn’t think so...

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

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Suns

The sun is the star at the center of our solar system, a source of light, heat, and energy. A ball of hot plasma, the sun has a mass more than 300,000 times that of Earth. Sometimes, stars in other solar systems are also referred to as “suns.”

Both our sun, and others, have appeared frequently in cult-television history.

Famously, The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) episode “The Midnight Sun” involves a reality wherein our Earth is plummeting towards the sun, causing record temperature spikes. The episode’s surprise ending is that this reality is a dream. In truth, the Earth is moving away from the sun, towards a freezing death in deep space.

In Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969-1973), “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes” involves another stellar disaster. Based on Margaret St. Clair’s (1911-1995) short story, first published in 1950, this episode tells the tale of a boy, Herbie (Clint Howard), with precognitive abilities.  He can accurately predict earthquakes and other disasters, and becomes a TV celebrity.  One day, however, Herbie goes silent, refusing to offer his prediction about tomorrow.

After being coerced to offer such a prediction, he paints a rosy picture of mankind’s future. In truth, this is a lie.The psychic has actually seen that in one day’s time, the sun will go supernova, destroying Earth and the human race.

In Star Trek’s (1966-1969) “All Our Yesterdays,”  the U.S.S. Enterprise visits an alien planet called Sarpeidon, in danger from a sun that, similarly, is about to go supernova. 

A thriving culture once existed on Sarpeidon, but all its inhabitants have, during the emergency, escaped into the past using a device called The Atavachron.  Spock, McCoy and Kirk end up using the device too, but must get back to the present before the supernova occurs.  This task is complicated by the fact that Spock, now in Sarpeidon’s ice age, has fallen in love with a beautiful exile, Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley).

The Land of the Lost (1974-1977) second season episode “The Longest Day” involves a pylon malfunction which causes Altrusia’s sun to remain frozen in the sky. Without a cool night, the Sleesktak life-cycle (involving the Altrusian moth) is disrupted.  The Marshalls must fix the damaged matrix table and restore balance to the pocket universe.

The opening montage of Star Trek: Voyager (1995 – 2001), features a beautiful shot of Janeway’s ship passing near a Delta Quadrant star, and a coronal ejection. 

And the children's’ series Teletubbies (1997-2001) featured the sun (with a baby face at the center) as one of the central personalities.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Suns

Identified by SGB: The Twilight Zone: "The Midnight Sun"

Identified by SGB: Star Trek: "All Our Yesterdays."

Identified by SGB: Rod Serling's Night Gallery; "The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes"

Identified by SGB: Planet of the Apes TV Series

Identified by SGB: Land of the Lost: "Elsewhen."

Identified by SGB: Jason of Star Command

Identified by SGB: Space:1999 "Breakaway."

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Star Blazers

Identified by SGB: Star Trek: Voyager.

Identified by SGB: Futurama.

Identified by SGB: Teletubbies!

Identified by Pierre Fontaine Doctor Who.

Identified by SGB: Battlestar Galactica

Sunday, October 04, 2015

At Flashbak: Sci-Fi TV: 1977

My second article at Flashbak this week remembers the obscure science fiction series of the year 1977.  

This was a great year for one-season wonders. Indeed, I remember these series with great fondness (particularly, The Fantastic Journey).

"For my third installment in this blog series about forgotten sci-fi television, I cast my gaze upon 1977, the year that Star Wars (1977) premiered and became an international sensation.

On TV, meanwhile, creators were still attempting to figure out how to create the next show like Star Trek, a series that, even in syndicated reruns, remained intensely popular.

Two of the 1977 series examined here attempt to resurrect Trek’s “civilization of the week,” format, only with travelers on foot or in a hover-car, moving from culture to culture, society to society.  The third is a parody of Trek tropes, one featuring comical interaction with strange aliens..."

Continue reading at Flashbak.

At Flashbak: Sci-Fi TV - 1982

This week at Flashbak, I continued my blog series about obscure or forgotten sci-fi TV series. This year, I looked back at the year 1982.  It was a great year for sci-fi and horror movies; not such a great year for TV.

The series I look back at are: The Phoenix, The Powers of Matthew Star, and Voyagers! 

All these series survived for just one season. The Phoenix and The Powers of Matthew Star were series about humanoid aliens on Earth, and Voyagers concerned time travel.  

Looking back today, The Powers of Matthew Star looks like a prehistoric version of Smallville (2000 - 2011) or Roswell (1999 - 2002). The series also had interesting creative personnel (including Harve Bennett, Leonard Nimoy and Walter Koenig).

I watched all of these series on their original run and was disappointed when they were canceled. I'd love to have DVD or blu-ray (or heck, even streaming...) releases of these obscure programs.

You can read the whole post at Flashbak.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Jason of Star Command: "Chapter Two: Prisoners of Dragos" (September 16, 1978)

In the second fifteen minute installment of Jason of Star Command (1979-1980), titled “Prisoner of Dragos,” we meet the series’ charismatic villain for the first time.  

As played by Sid Haig, Dragos is quite evil, and quite dedicated to his plan of “total conquest” of “the entire galaxy.” He also seems to have quite an array of technology (including eye lasers...) at his disposal.  

As part of his plan of galactic conquest, Dragos knocks Jason (Craig Littler) unconscious and fashions a duplicate known as an “energy clone.” Once programmed, this individual will look and act exactly as Jason would, all while furthering Drago’s agenda of chaos.

Worse, as Jason discovers, the Commander Canarvin (James Doohan) he rescued in the previous story was also an energy clone.  Now, that villain has been returned to Star Command while the real Canarvin languishes in the Dragonship prison...

“Prisoner of Dragos” moves at a fast-clip, a lot like an old pulpy movie cliffhanger, but this episode is notable for adding some sets and characters to the drama. We meet Dragos for the first time, and also see the interior of his magnificent and monstrous Dragon Ship. 

I find it interesting that the Dragon Ship -- like the Star Command -- is built upon an asteroid, in this time a kind of orange-hued one.  I wonder if space vessel construction occurs on asteroids on this scale because of the need for gravity.  The giant asteroids of Space Academy/Star Command and the Dragonship may provide such gravity, thus preserving the “ships” energy for other crucial tasks or services (including life support, weapons, and defense.) 

Still, the Dragon Ship hails from a “dark mysterious” galaxy, and so the fact that it shares a construction technique with Earth technology suggests something vital, I think about in-universe space travel.  

At any rate, it’s fun to speculate about.

This episode also introducesthe crucial plot-twist of the series’ Year One narrative.  

Energy clones belonging to Dragos have infiltrated important positions in Star Command, and this replacement has been carried out in secret.  In 1980, this very idea -- android duplicates – was the crucial plot-point in the TV series Beyond Westworld.   More recently, the idea found play in the re-booted, post-9/11 Battlestar Galactica re-imagination.  Considering the evil dictator/terrorist villain and this sleeper cell sub-plot, it is fair to state that Jason of Star Command is ahead of its time.

On a more literal level, throughout this season, “energy clones” cause a lot of trouble for Star Command and Jason, and here our hero must undergo the duplication process himself.

Fans of Space Academy (1977) may also realize by this juncture that the source of Filmation's inspiration has changed from Star Trek to Star Wars.  This episode -- like all episodes of the first season of Jason of Star Command -- is more interested in capture, rescue and battles, than in the examination of human morality and confrontation with diverse alien cultures.

Still, Jason is swashbuckling fun.

Next episode: “Escape from Dragos.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Space Academy: "Castaways in Time and Space" (September 17, 1977)

This week, on Space Academy, Commander Gampu (Jonathan Harris) and cadet Laura Gentry (Pamelyn Ferdin) investigate a nearby black hole from the relative safety of their Seeker. Investigative results are "negative," but then the ship disappears inside the black hole, and the personnel are feared lost.

Meanwhile, back on Space Academy, Laura's brother Chris Gentry (Ric Carrott) is desperate to rescue his sister but meets with resistance from Paul Jerome (Ty Henderson), a new cadet on the team. 

He's from a "pioneer planet" where "survival was the name of the game" and he hasn't gotten used to being part of a team yet. He only wants to look after himself.

But Chris is adamant, and on a Seeker mission with Jerome,  Tee Gar Soom and Peepo, the resident robot...) 

Gentry detects Laura's presence via their unusual mind-linking ability. His Seeker travels to "star speed" through the black hole, and emerges on the other side, at a desolate planet. 

There, on the surface, the team confronts a giant creature. The creature is angry, and capable of rendering itself invisible for short spells. 

Paul saves the day by distracting the creature while Chris and Tee Gar rescue Laura and Commander Gampu. In other words, he thinks of others before himself.

Space Academy’s (1977) second episode, “Castaways in Time and Space” might seem like a basic or rudimentary space opera tale, but it is very strong in terms of its handling of the series characters.

The narrative concerns a Seeker -- with Laura (Pamelyn Ferdin) and Gampu (Jonathan Harris) aboard –inadvertently traveling through a black hole and becoming stranded on an alien world.  Laura’s brother, Chris (Ric Carrott) is desperate to rescue her, but is thwarted at times by the new recruit, Paul (Ty Henderson), who possesses a different moral compass.

As I’ve noted before, I teach a college level course, Introduction to Intercultural Communications, and what it concerns is the fact that we shouldn’t always judge others by the standards of our culture, if they are from another one. 

Instead, we should understand and respect other cultural traditions, just as we would like to see our traditions similarly respected.  That’s what the dynamic between Paul and Chris really concerns here: two cadets from very different cultures, working together on the same mission.  Chris misunderstands Paul’s behavior as being selfish, or even cowardly, when in fact, Paul is from a planet where survival is difficult, and he possesses a different -- but not necessarily inferior -- code of ethics. 

In the end, Paul is true blue, of course, and proves that he is a hero, regardless of his cultural differences, and that’s a great message to send to kids (or adults for that matter). We might not always go at problems the same way as our neighbors, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help each other, or achieve great success side-by-side.

In terms of special effects, Space Academy again impresses. Here, the alien life-form that lives on the planet on the other side of the black hole is rendered using stop-motion animation, and there’s even a scene involving a Seeker crash on the planet surface.  Overall, the series compares very favorably to other (more expensive) American sci-fi series of the era, including Battlestar Galactica (1978) and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981).

Two things age “Castaways in Time and Space.”  The first is slang.  

One of the characters in the drama is called a “turkey,” which is in perfect keeping with the 1977 real life context, but not so good for the 40th century or so.  

And Loki and Peepo play a very primitive-looking computer game version of Tic-Tac-Toe.

Next week: "Hide and Seek."