Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Spock's Brain" (September 20, 1968)

Stardate: 5431.4

An ion-drive powered alien spaceship intercepts the U.S.S Enterprise, and deposits one life-form on the bridge. This strange woman, Kara (Marj Dusay), incapacitates the crew, rendering everyone unconscious.

When the crew awakes, a startling discovery is made. The interloper stole Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy’s) brain. Now, Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley) suggests he can only keep the half-Vulcan alive for 24 hours without Spock’s brain.

But Captain Kirk (William Shatner) insists that in that 24 hours, he will recover that missing brain.  

To start, the Enterprise follows the spaceship’s ion trail to the Sigma Draconis system.

There, on the sixth planet, humanoid Morgs (men) and Eymorgs (women) live apart. The men are primitive and live together on the icy surface, fearful of the eymorgs; the “givers of pain and delight.”

Beneath the surface, the women live in a subterranean technological society; all their needs for survival met by a computer.

There, underground, Kirk learns, that Spock’s brain is being used to power and regulate the entire complex.  Now Kirk must negotiate for the return of Spock’s brain, but even if he succeeds, the surgery is impossible by current standards.

Fortunately, a device called the Teacher holds the answer…if only McCoy can avail himself of it, and then remember the knowledge.

It will come as no surprise to readers when I note that “Spock’s Brain” is considered the very worst episode of the original Star Trek (1966-1969).  Many words, sentences, and paragraphs have been devoted to this installment’s many flaws.

However, I disagree with that assertion that “Spock’s Brain” is the worst episode of the series for a few reasons, though I acknowledge it is, indeed, a very bad episode.

But there are at least two stories which are worse. 

My two selections for worst episode of Star Trek are actually “And the Children Shall Lead,” which is hobbled by a dreadfully-stilted central performance from attorney Melvin Belli and a humorless, unsavory plot-line (the corruption of children), and “Requiem for Methuselah,” which features an unbelievable (and utterly unconvincing) love-story for Captain Kirk.

But “Spock’s Brain?”

Well, it’s extremely low-brow, and yet it manages never to bore. It’s Star Trek, just Star Trek on a really dumb, superficial level. It is juvenilia, and most episodes of the series are never even in the same solar system as juvenilia.  On the other hand, it would be difficult for me to deny that “Spock’s Brain” moves at a faster-clip than last week’s episode, “Assignment: Earth.”

But this episode is so distinctive, so memorable, in its utter weirdness and wrongness, that it’s easy to see why people remember it as the worst. Once you’ve watched it, you’re not likely to forget it.

In fact, even twenty years after its first airing “Spock’s Brain “was being recalled and parodied, which proves, if nothing else, the story’s utter uniqueness, or hapless charm. It may be bad, but somehow this  badness has stood the test of time, and people feel affectionate towards it.

I’ve never met a Star Trek fan, by contrast, who feels affectionate towards “And the Children Shall Lead.”

Look at this clip from The Wonder Years (1988-1993), for example, to get a sense of how the imagery and sound effects of “Spock’s Brain” worked their way into the pop culture:

So why does “Spock’s Brain” fail…so colorfully?

Well, for one thing, I have a theory about William Shatner and his acting style, and it goes like this: The worse that the material is that he must contend with, the more Shatners invests, emotionally, and even in terms of his energy level.  It’s as if he’s facing a mountain he must climb. He steels himself, and gives it everything -- EVERYTHING -- he can, so as to breathe life into it.

Here -- given a patently absurd teleplay -- Shatner simply over-invests to the point of near-insanity, hoping to pull off the drama.  He makes Kirk bitchy and obsessed, and single-minded to the nth degree. I actually commend him for his efforts, but Shatner’s performance contributes, finally, to the feeling that the episode has adopted some weird, hyperbolic, hysterical tenor.

And DeForest Kelley faces a similar problem. He goes from dead-pan seriousness to over-the-top bug-eyed, failing to modulate his performance effectively from scene to scene. One minute he’s asking (seriously) the (awful) question: “In the whole galaxy, where are you going to look for Spock’s brain?” with utter solemnity. And in the next he is marveling, wide-eyed, that a child could complete the brain surgery.

Understand, please, that I love both these actors, and don’t intend to insult them. They were faced with a crappy script, and had to figure out some way to make it sing. They made choices, according to their particular gifts, and yet those choices don’t, ultimately, work towards the story’s success.

Instead, they make the story feel campy.

Finally, the marvelous Leonard Nimoy often grants a weak Star Trek story some facet of dignity. He is someone who underplays a scene to perfection, and restrains his emotions brilliantly. Here, Nimoy is reduced to the level of a walking piece of furniture. Mindless, but ever-present.  And no, it doesn’t seem terribly dignified.

The actual mechanics of the story are baffling too.  Spock’s brain is stolen, and re-inserted into his skull, and yet -- in neither instance -- is his head shaved, his skin cut.  The idea of high-tech brain surgery might have worked a bit better if we had a constant physical reminder of what Spock endured, physically.  We don’t.

Or, the stolen brain concept might have worked had we been given the information that the brain had been “beamed” out, rather than cut out. This would be in keeping with Trek technology, and also permitted us to understand why Spock’s hair was not cut off.  But it seems ridiculous for the man to go through two brain surgeries in an hour-long episode, and never have even one hair out-of-place.

And don’t even get me started on the idea of Spock leading Bones through brain surgery, once his voice box is reconnected. 

For one thing, this help from Spock diminishes the dignity of Dr. McCoy, who should be able to get through a surgery without the verbal instructions of his patient.

And for another thing, it diminishes Spock too, making him seem invincible. He can actually give a doctor instructions for reattaching his brain.  That feels very….cartoon-ish.

The episode is sloppy too. Sigma Draconis VI is twice called Sigma Draconis VII by principal cast members, for example. This is not a small detail in a system of many planets, right?

All of these problems suggest that “Spock’s Brain” is a train wreck.

Yet it is a train-wreck, as I’ve intimated above, that you can’t stop watching, that you can’t quite turn your back on. The episode is dynamic in terms of its color, its movement, even its eye-brow raising hysteria.

It’s unforgettable, really.  These qualities make it odd, but they don’t make it the very worst Star Trek.

The silliest episode? Perhaps so.

The most over-the-top in terms of acting? Indeed.

The most ill-conceived?  No argument. 

“Spock’s Brain” should have never gotten past the idea stage in the first place. But beyond that, it should never have been slated as the premiere for the third season, either. 

As a kid, I first saw the series in local affiliate reruns, so I never had to see “Spock’s Brain” as a premiere and suffer that sinking feeling that things were taking a turn for the worse.  Instead, I merely saw it as a bizarre and not very good episode. I can only imagine what dedicated fans felt, tuning in to a new season and seeing…this.

I would suggest that my reading is correct, however.  This is a bad episode, sure.

But others are worse, in part because they simply aren’t as gonzo-nuts and flat-out unforgettable as “Spock’s Brain” remains.

Next week: “The Enterprise Incident.”

The Films of 1985: A View to a Kill

Roger Moore’s final cinematic outing as James Bond, A View to a Kill (1985), is not generally considered one of the better titles in the 007 canon.  

In fact, the critical consensus suggests precisely the opposite. Most aficionados consider the film to be Moore’s worst title, and place it in the (dreadful) company of Diamonds are Forever (1971), Sean Connery’s last canon film, and Die Another Die (2002), Pierce Brosnan’s final Bond film.

One reason that folks tend to dislike the film involves Moore himself. Even he acknowledges that, at 57 years old, he was likely too old to play 007. Moore's age is usually the elephant in the room when critics discuss this film, and yet I think there's a counterpoint worth making. 

First, I hope I look as fit and handsome at the age of 57 as Moore does, in A View to A Kill. We should all be that fortunate.

And secondly, I actually prefer Moore's Bond with a little age on him, when he's less the smirking, somehow arrogant pretty boy.  

Yes, Moore is sort of leathery and grizzled here, and yet, with age also comes experience. We look at Moore's deep-lined, but still-attractive visage here, and we can see life experience all over his face. His 007 has been to the rodeo before (six times, actually...), which is important to consider because experience is, perhaps, the one advantage Bond has in a battle against a brilliant sociopath: Max Zorin.  Lest we forget, the posters for A View to a Kill asked, specifically: "Has James Bond finally met his match?"  

If this tag-line is the movie's chosen thematic terrain, then the character of each combatant in this contest is significant, as I'll write about further. Moore's humanity (reflected in his graceful, but obvious aging) thus plays into the movie's central juxtaposition of genetic perfection/moral emptiness vs. humanity/morality.

Critics complain so much about Moore's age because -- let's face it -- it's an easy target. I remember back when Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) was released, critics were calling the Enterprise crew "the over the hill gang."  Well, what I wouldn't give, in 2017, to have four or five more Star Trek films, today, featuring that particular "over the hill" crew.

Broadly speaking, I would hope people could judge a work of art on more than just the superficial quality of age, and looks. But that hope is, frankly, in vain. Critics often go for the low-hanging fruit. 

Despite the brickbats, I have -- since first seeing A View to a Kill in theaters in 1985 -- found myself frequently re-watching the film, as though checking in again to see if it remains such a poor effort.  I always return thinking that there is something -- something -- there.

But on re-assessment, I absolutely see the same deficits.

And yet A View to a Kill still intrigues me quite a bit. In fact, I would argue it is not nearly as bad as the other two 007 films that I name-checked above. Moore’s final outing carries such an endless fascination for me, I suppose, because it is all over the map. The tone is wildly inconsistent, for example.  It is a film of notable highs, and dramatic lows.

Consider that A View to a Kill features -- courtesy of Duran Duran -- one of the most memorable title tracks in the whole franchise (right up there with Goldfinger [1964], Live and Let Die [1973], and Skyfall [2012).

Consider, also, the film’s (generally) superior casting. The film features Christopher Walken, Grace Jones, and Patrick Macnee. That’s an “A” list supporting cast. (Let's just not talk about Tanya Roberts, yet).

In addition, many of the set pieces include amazing stunt-work and beautiful location photography, all scored to thrilling and lugubrious perfection by John Barry.

Still -- quite clearly – there’s something amiss with the film overall. Sir Roger Moore himself reported his dislike of A View to a Kill. It’s his least favorite of all his 007 appearances. He found it too violent, too sadistic, and, as noted above, judged himself too old to play the part.

Drilling down further, I suspect that what fascinates me about the film is precisely what troubled Moore. The film is darker than most of the other Bond films from this era, and in that way, an absolutely appropriate lead-in to the reality-grounded Timothy Dalton era. 

Yet for every foray into darkness and sadism, A View to A Kill hedges its bets with an unnecessary and silly joke, or action scene. The film keeps teetering towards an abyss of darkness, and then keeps backing away from it, into comic inanity.

Unlike Moore, I believe the film would have worked much more effectively if it maintained or sustained the dark atmosphere, and didn’t attempt to play so many moments lightly. A serious approach makes more sense, thematically, given the nature of the film’s villain: genetically engineered Max Zorin, and his plan for human carnage and cataclysm.

Lacking thematic and tonal consistency, A View to a Kill is a sometimes satisfying, sometimes inadequate Bond film, but ceaselessly fascinating. I understand why so many scholars and critics count it as Moore’s worst, while simultaneously feeling that there is also much to appreciate here.

Perhaps a better way of enunciating my point about the film is to say that I can view how the movie, with a few changes, could have been one of the strongest entries in this durable action series, especially as Bond prepared for a big transition to another actor, and to  another style and epoch of action filmmaking.

“Intuitive improvisation is the secret of genius.”

In Siberia, James Bond, 007 (Roger Moore) follows up on the investigation of the deceased 003, tracking down a computer microchip, produced by Zorin Industries, that can withstand an electromagnetic pulse.  The Soviets also want the chip recovered, and attempt to kill Bond before he makes a successful escape (in a submarine that looks like an ice berg).

Back in London, M (Robert Brown), assigns Bond to investigate Zorin (Christopher Walken), a former KGB agent, now entrepreneur. 

Zorin’s interests are varied. Beyond his tech company (which produces microchips), he breeds and sells horses.  At Ascot Racetrack, Bond, Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), and M16 agent Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee), observe Zorin’s newest colt, Pegasus, an animal that may be the result of genetic manipulation, like Zorin himself is rumored to be.

Bond then heads to Paris to meet an informant, Aubergine (Jean Rougerie), at the Eiffel Tower, who possesses information about an upcoming horse auction at Zorin’s extravagant French estate. The informant is killed by Zorin’s hench-person, the imposing May Day (Grace Jones), who flees Bond by parachuting from the Tower.  

Bond pursues, and sees Zorin and May Day escaping together in a boat.

Bond then goes undercover, with Tibbett at his side, as a wealthy horse buyer, at Zorin’s event. There, he confirms that Pegasus is the product of genetic manipulation and steroid use. He also encounters a mystery woman, Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts), whom Zorin pays five million dollars.

The next phase of Bond’s investigation leads him to San Francisco, where Sutton lives, and where Zorin is planning Operation Main Strike, a man-made earthquake that will destroy Silicon Valley, and leave Zorin the sole world provider of computer micro-chips.

After Bond teams with Mayday to stop the earthquake, Zorin abducts Stacey, and flees the city by blimp.  Bond pursues, and the nemeses fight to the death atop the Golden Gate Bridge.

“What’s there to say?”

A View to a Kill feels so schizophrenic because it vacillates between extreme seriousness or darkness, and then moments of ridiculous humor. Instead, the film should have stayed with the serious tone, which benefited Moore’s Bond immensely in my favorite from his era: For Your Eyes Only (1981).

Why should the jokey moments have been downplayed, or jettisoned, and the darker moments, highlighted?  

For a few reasons. Consider, first the sweep or trajectory of film history.  Overall, it might be viewed as a shift from the artificial and stagey, to the naturalistic and real, or gritty. Certainly, that is the direction the Bond films have headed in, moving to Dalton, and then, finally, to Craig. Modern audiences apparently seek more reality, and less theatricality and camp in their thrillers.  A View to a Kill demonstrates the damaging juxtaposition of these two approaches, and should have settled on one.

I choose the darker, more serious approach for this film, because of the gravity of the conflict. Here, Bond challenges Zorin, a sociopath, and a person not bound by morals or laws. Zorin is also engineered (by his mentor and father-figure, a Nazi scientist named Dr. Mortner) to be physically strong, and, frankly, a (mad) genius).

Bond, by contrast, is the product of natural biology, and bound by laws and some code of ethics or morality. But 007 has his experience and training to benefit him, and make him a contender. This is a conflict of two very unlike men. In a way, the dynamic is not entirely unlike Khan vs. Kirk in Star Trek, except for the fact that Kirk is much more up-front about his deficits than Bond is. 

Except for rare occasions such as Never Say Never Again (1983), the films do not acknowledge Bond’s aging. In the Roger Moore films, furthermore, audiences don’t really know Bond’s deficits as a human being. Instead, he’s a bit of a plastic-man in this incarnation, able to undertake any physical challenge with perfect acuity. Because Bond's aging is not acknowledged in A View to the Kill, the real nature of the conflict between Zorin and Bond is lost to a certain degree.

Moore’s age could have worked for the picture, instead of against it, had it been acknowledged with Moore's sense of humor, and again, his grace. Imagine an older, more world-weary, less physically “perfect” Bond being forced to confront a kind of superman with no sense of morality or humanity.  It could have been his greatest test, and acknowledging Bond’s age would have created a greater contrast between the two characters and their respective traits.

Still, the grave or serious attitude in A View to a Kill is justified. 

One can dislike the sadistic violence, of course, but the violence makes sense given this tale. Zorin possesses as little regard for underlings as he does for his enemies. People are just a means to an end to him. They may be loyal to him, but he doesn’t care.  

His lack of caring, of empathy, is what gives him his power. Zorin can gun down his employees without caring, and then offhandedly quip that his operation is moving "right on schedule." He can kill a million people in Silicon Valley for his own ends, and not see how evil his plan is.  He can achieve his ambitious ends because he possesses no sense of his limitations, and no sense that other people matter.

These qualities make Zorin different from the Bond villains of recent vintage, who were more grounded in reality. Kamal Khan (Octopussy [1983]) was a glorified jewel thief who became enmeshed in the Cold War  plot. In the end, he was still a jewel thief. And before him, Kristatos was, similarly, a grounded-in-reality “agent” for the Soviet Union, attempting to conduct an act of espionage (acquire the ATAC and return it to his KGB masters).  

Zorin represents a dramatic return to the Drax/Stromberg school of villainy, but in far less cartoon-like terms.  The camp elements of Drax and Stromberg’s stories are mostly absent here, at least in terms of Zorin’s world, and so he emerges as a dire, physical and mental threat to Bond’s success.

Christopher Walken brings his patented weirdness -- and brilliant unpredictability -- to the role, making Zorin a dramatic and legitimate danger to 007, and the world at large.  

Significantly Drax and Stromberg were no physical match for Bond, and their megalomania had a kind of predictable movie villain logic to it. Zorin is determinedly different.  Scene to scene, the audience is uncertain how Zorin will react, or respond to challenges. Walken brings the character to life in a dramatic way, and contrary to what some critics claimed, does not take the role lightly. Instead, Walken's Zorin is an almost perfect (crack'd) mirror, actually for 007. He is a fully developed individual with sense of humor and mastery over his world, but one who lacks morality, humanity, and empathy.

May Day fits in too with the idea of A View to a Kill as a grave, serious, violent film. She works for a sociopath, and is attracted to him; to his power and strength. But ultimately, May Day possesses something Zorin lacks:  a conscience.  How do we know? Because she makes emotional connections to people (like Jenny Flex), that Zorin can’t make, or  can't even understand. 

Unfortunately May Day’s conflict could also have been developed far more than it is.  Her decision to fight Zorin plays more like a third-act gimmick than a credible character development, even if the seeds for that character development are right there, in the script, and on screen.

A View to a Kill should have been the supreme contrast between a man who kills for reasons of morality (Queen and Country, essentially) and a man who kills for no moral reason whatsoever.  The other characters, like May Day, are the collateral damage in their contest.  

Instead, however, the movie’s essential schizophrenia -- perhaps cowardice -- diminishes its effectiveness.

Let’s gaze for a moment at the (almost...) fantastic pre-title sequence in Siberia, which highlights some of the most amazing (and well-photographed) stunts of the entire Moore era…and that’s saying something, given the pre-title sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me, or the mountain climbing sequence in For Your Eyes Only. 

Barry’s score here is moody and serious, the matters at hand are absolutely life and death, and then…in the middle of it, we get a dumb joke to break the mood: California Girls by the Beach Boys (but performed by cover band) gets played as Bond uses one ski (from a bob-sled) to surf a lake. The tension of the set-up -- so assiduously established -- is punctured, and we are asked, as we are asked frequently in Moore’s era, to laugh instead of legitimately invest in 007's world.

Again and again, the movie lunges for the cheap gag, rather than embracing the seriousness of the affair. 

After Zorin has committed point-blank, brutal murder and devastating arson in San Francisco, and is about to detonate a bomb that will cause a massive earthquake and kill millions, we are treated to a joke action sequence with Bond and Sutton aboard a run-away fire engine.  

The stunts are impressive, sure, but to no meaningful, thematic, or even tonal point.  Do we really need to see a put-upon cop get his squad car pulped, while he reacts with angst?  Do we really need the draw-bridge operator  joke, as he shrinks back in his booth, recoiling from the demolition? Do we really need to see Bond swinging haplessly side-to-side, on an un-tethered fire engine ladder?

Only minutes after audiences gasp over Bond’s delicate rescue of Stacey from the roof of City Hall -- losing his footing and nearly falling from a tall ladder -- we’re suddenly in The Cannonball Run (1981), or some such thing.

As the movie leads into its amazing finale, a legitimately tense (and very realistic seeming and vertigo-inducing) fight atop the Golden Gate Bridge, we also have to get the requisite shot of Bond’s manhood in danger, as the blimp flies too near an offending antenna, and threatens his crotch. 

I’ll be honest here: The Golden Gate Bridge set-piece is one of my all-time favorites in the Bond series. 

The location shooting is amazing. The score is pulse-pounding, and the dizzying heights of the bridge rival For Your Eyes Only’s mountain-top finale. There’s a sense of chaos unloosed too, as Mortner arms himself with a grenade, it detonates, and the blimp shift.  

And then there’s the physical fight, at those vertiginous heights, between Zorin and Bond.  

Zorin is armed with an axe. Bond has nothing to rely on but his wits. It’s a great, splendidly orchestrated sequence, and very few phony rear-projection shots take away from the stunt and location work.  The fight's outcome is perfect too. Starting to slip  from his perch, Zorin giggles a little, before plunging from the bridge to his death.  

I love that little laugh, and Zorin’s brief moment of realization, before he falls. 

But before reaching that incredible conclusion, we have to deal with such absurdities as a large, loud blimp sneaking up on Stacey, a return visit to our put upon SF cop (now directing traffic), and Bond’s crotch in danger from that antenna.

These gags are not only dumb and unnecessary, they take away from the movie’s serious approach; an approach that could have led us smoothly into the Dalton era of a more realistic, graver 007 universe. We have seen so many fan edits of Star Trek or Star Wars movies in recent years. I’d love to see a fan edit of A View to a Kill in which some of the cringe-worthy gags got omitted, and the grave tone of the movie, instead, was maintained throughout. 

Obviously, such an edit would not fix some things. 

I would much have preferred to see a tired, bloodied Bond here, instead of one who can run at top speed, leap on draw bridges, or ski, and surf flawlessly through dangerous terrain. I would have rather seen a tired, huffing and puffing Bond these challenges, using his wits. I feel like that my preferred approach to A View to a Kill would have made it easier to invest in the story, and been a real proper send-off for Moore’s Bond, whom I grew up with...and love without reservation.

Could the movie have -- with that approach -- gotten beyond Tanya Roberts’ grating performance as Sutton? 

Would the strangely brutal violence in Zorin's mine have felt more appropriate, or better justified?  I suspect these deficits would have been judged differently, had a consistent tone been applied to A View to a Kill.

Again this film fascinates me almost endlessly. Sometimes -- such as in the Golden Gate climax -- it’s nearly a great James Bond movie. And some of the time a View to a Kill is a terrible Bond movie (the fire engine chase).

And the incredible thing is that from minute to minute, A View to a Kill vacillates between those two poles. There’s no middle ground.  Diamonds are Forever is glib, glitzy, inconsequential and dumb throughout; Die Another Die, ridiculous and campy to its core. 

But Moore’s final hour as James Bond is an animal all its own. A View to a Kill is a schizophrenic reach for greatness (and for the future direction of the Bond films…) that, simultaneously, plumbs the worst depths of the actor’s tenure in the role.

So, curse the bad, or appreciate the good?  I guess that's your view...to this film.

Movie Trailer: A View to a Kill (1985)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ask JKM a Question: A View to A Kill?

A reader, Ted, writes:

"I have read and enjoyed but sometimes disagreed with your old reviews of James Bond films. However, I was disappointed that you have not yet reviewed all of them yet.  

In particular, I wonder what you think of the first Bond film I ever saw in the movie theater: A View to a Kill (1985)?"

Ted, that's a great question.  

When I received your e-mail some weeks ago, I decided to review A View to a Kill (1985) this week, and also feature a look at the merchandise released with the film.  

So, I already posted some advert artwork related to the film (last night), and will devote Tuesday morning to an in-depth review of Roger Moore's last outing as 007. 

On Wednesday, you can look back at some ephemera from the movie's release in 1985.

You're right that I did not get to every Bond film on my last "Bond Week."   I'm working on it!

I still have left to review quite a few of the films, including a lot of the Connery installments, and at least two Brosnan entries. I hope to get to them all written in time for the next Bond Week (which should come with the release of the next film in what -- 2018? 2019?)

To the specifics of your question: I find View to a Kill fascinating -- if not necessarily good -- but  I don't want to steal my review's thunder by going into more detail.

So, tune in tomorrow morning for a close-up look.

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

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Domes

A dome is defined as a "rounded or arched roof," typically completing a structure or building with a circular base.

Domes have been utilized frequently in cult-TV history to suggest, in particular, a futuristic construct.

The 1970's TV programs in particular, featured domes galore.

For example, the biospheres of the Earthship Ark were topped by domes in the short-lived The Starlost (1973).

Space:1999 (1975-1977) featured domes on at least two occasions as well. 

In Year One's "Mission of the Darians," the Alphans encountered a generation ship, the S.S. Daria, which was dotted with large environmental domes. Some of these domes interiors were overgrown and irradiated because of a shipboard nuclear disaster. 

In Year Two of the same series, the Alphans attempted to transport to Texas City, Earth, in the episode "Journey to Where."  These cities looked like giant, mechanical mushrooms, with domes atop  the buildings.

Logan's Run: The Series (1977) re-made the action of the popular 1976 feature film, and re-used the miniature for the City of Domes.  The City of the Domes is, simply, the home that Logan and Jessica escape from, in search of Sanctuary.

In 1979, the final episode of Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979), "The Hand of God," featured scenes in a domed-outcropping on the dorsal side of the great battlestar; a celestial dome once utilized for navigation.

Much more recently, CBS aired Under the Dome (2013 - 2015), a series based on the 2009 novel by Stephen King.  The series, which ran for 39 episodes, involved the people of Chester's Mill discovering that they were trapped beneath a giant force field shaped -- you guessed it -- like a dome.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Domes

Identified by SGB: The Outer Limits.

Identified by Brian: Doctor Who: "The Moonbase."

Identified by SGB: The Starlost

Identified by SGB: Space:1999 "Mission of the Darians."

Identified by SGB: Space:1999 "Journey to Where."

Identified by SGB: Logan's Run: The Series.

Identified by SGB: Space Academy

Identified by SGB: Battlestar Galactica: "The Hand of God."

Not Identified: Space Stars (1981)

Identified by Brian: Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Masterpiece Society."

Identified by Chris G: Battlestar Galactica (reboot)

Identified by Brian: Under the Dome.

Identified by Brian: The Expanse

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Advert Artwork: A View to a Kill (Michelin Edition)

John and Jim's Excellent Journey: Episode 1

The great James McLean -- one of my favorite scholars and friends in the world -- and I are now co-hosting an (irregular) cult-TV podcast called John and Jim's Excellent Journey. The podcast is devoted to classic, cult-TV, and our first episode is now available! 

This entry looks at classic TV and, in particular, the TV shows of the late Glen Larson (1937-2014). We discuss Knight Rider, Battlestar Galactica, and Manimal, among other things.  

But we are also a bit -- let's say undisciplined -- in our cult-TV ramblings.

Let me know if you like the podcast, and what other subjects you would like to see Jim and I cover!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Lidsville: "Fly Now, Vacuum Later"

In “Fly Now, Vacuum Later,” Weenie the Genie (Billie Hayes) conjures a magic/flying carpet to transport Mark (Butch Patrick) home.

Hoo Doo (Charles Nelson Reilly) attempts to stop his escape by summoning, in response, a giant flying vacuum cleaner. It intercepts the carpet in flight and captures Mark.

Mark is forced to walk a plank atop Hoo Doo’s top hat HQ, and Weenie must arrange a rescue, using the flying carpet.

Well, just as I feared, Lidsville (1971 -1973) possesses no short term memory. Even though last week a map promised an escape (via a golden ladder), that escape possibility is not brought up in this, the very next episode. 

Instead, the new plan is to use a flying carpet to escape.

Irritatingly, by the end of the episode, the flying carpet isn’t even used for an escape attempt, once Mark is rescued.  Who wants to bet that it too is forgotten, as an escape option, in next week’s episode?

The problem, of course, is that each episode of the series seems to exist in its own standalone universe. There’s no learning from show to show, no development from episode-to-episode.  Before anyone states that programs didn’t develop like that in the 1970s, I would only point out that Sid and Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost (1974-1977) did feature a consistent universe, with consistent rules, and “set points” (like pylons, or the Sleestak city) that were remembered by the Marshalls. Lidsville, so far, isn’t in the same league.

This episode is memorable mainly for the Charles Nelson Reilly Hoo Doo scenes.  Here, he gets a musical number and sings “It’s So Much Fun Being Rotten.”  Also, the actor breaks the fourth wall and makes eye contact with the camera on at least two occasions.  His performance is certainly over-the-top, but it has the virtue of recognizing just how over the top it actually is.  He’s in on the joke.

This episode, like last week’s, ends with Hoo Doo’s ritual humiliation.  This doesn’t do much for his power to menace.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: "The Dummy's Revenge" (October 11, 1975)

In “The Dummy’s Revenge,” a ventriloquist called “The Phantom of Vaudeville” (Tim Herbert) and his dummy, Elmo (Brian Berlin), materialize in the graveyard on the outskirts of town, near the castle where they once lived.  They have returned to the land of the living to inflect revenge on the act that replaced them on stage, in audience affection.

Spenser (Larry Storch), Kong (Forrest Tucker) and Tracy (Bob Burns) are assigned by Zero the task of stopping these ghosts.  When they announce themselves as ghost busters, however, the Phantom and his dummy turn their wrath on them…so they pretend to be vaudeville stars.

During the ensuing confrontation, the de-materializer doesn’t work and that the phantom can only be destroyed by unmasking him…

God help me, I’m starting to enjoy the goofy and sophomoric charms of The Ghost Busters (1975), a cheap-jack Filmation live action series. This episode isn’t any better than any of the others, and yet somehow, I am learning to tolerate the goofy shtick better.

Here, we get the usual jokes: the self-destruct joke (of the mission tape), the file cabinet joke, and the mistaken identity joke too.  In this case, the Ghost Busters are mistaken first for Vaudevillians, and then they wish to prove they are actually vaudevillians, when the Phantom targets them as ghost hunters.  The vaudeville act performed by Spenser, Kong, and Tracy -- under duress -- in the ubiquitous haunted castle, isn’t half bad.

The villains are also actually a bit creepy this time, although victims of the same quirk.  It’s not just a ventriloquist and his dummy to fight here, but the ghost of a ventriloquist and the ghost of a ventriloquist’s dummy.  That’s just so incredibly awkward, but a necessity, I suppose if the de-materializer is in the picture. This week, however, the de-materializer doesn’t even work.  I guess the powers that be felt these ghost busters had to be constantly fighting ghosts, not other monsters of the week, hence the fact that every monster -- whether mummy, vampire, Frankenstein monster or ventriloquist’s dummy --  had to be a ghost.

Next week: “A Worthless Gauze”