Saturday, January 26, 2013
Land of the Lost, Season Three, continues its transition -- some might call it descent -- from science fiction to out-and-out fantasy in this outing, “Abominable Snowman.” Here, a yeti-like creature comes down from the mountains in pursuit of its prey, a unicorn that Holly (Kathy Coleman) adopts as a pet and names Corny.
When the Abominable Snowman takes Corny back to its snow den, Holly and Chaka pursue, hoping to rescue the innocent animal from the carnivorous yeti. They meet the yeti face-to-face in its cave and are able to escape in time for a quick rendezvous with Jack (Ron Harper) and Will (Wesley Eure).
All throughout The Land of the Lost’s television run, the snow-capped mountains in the distance of Altrusia, on the horizon, have been visible, so I don’t have a problem believing that a creature like the Yeti (or Thapa, as Enik calls it) inhabits them. Although it is strange that he hasn’t come down from the mountains until now, I can nonetheless accept him as a new denizen. My only wish would be for a better or more convincing, more frightening costume.
Also, the Abominable Snowman as seen here seems gentle, dimwitted and not very fast-moving, so the Sleestak’s fear of it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There seems to be a pattern in these Season Three shows that goes like this: The Sleestak send a messenger -- always Enik (Walker Edmiston) -- to the Marshalls to demand that the humans solve some problem in Altrusia. Enik complies, and so do the Marshalls, and then the threat is mitigated. This is how things have gone with Malak (“Survival Kit”), Torchy (“Cornered”) and now the Abominable Snowman.
Between the bad costume for the yeti and a blooper moment in which a boom mike dips perilously into camera frame, “Abominable Snowman” isn’t the most visually-accomplished or exciting Land of the Lost episode.
That fact established, I am glad to see that Holly is again showing her independence and courage. Too often recently she has been shown simply sweeping up the temple, essentially sidelined as a “house wife” while Jack and Will do the adventuring. But here Holy takes a big risk to save her pet, and again reveals composure and grace in the presence of a monster.
I’ve written here before how, from a certain perspective, Holly is really the main character of Land of the Lost, in some way, and indeed would have been featured in the 1990s series (along with Chaka) had things gone just a little differently. Early on in the original series, we learned of her destiny to be separated from her family, and the tests Holly faces in Altrusia all seem to concern establishing her maturity and competency…in preparation for the day she joins the futuristic (human) community we learn about from her grown self in Dorothy Fontana’s brilliant “Elsewhen.”
Next week: an episode of imaginative highs and frustrating lows: “Timestop.”
Friday, January 25, 2013
Powys Media has just re-published my 2003 Space: 1999 novel, The Forsaken, which has been out of print for the better part-of-the-decade, and fetching ridiculous prices on second-hand markets. The book features a great foreword written by Prentis Hancock (Paul Morrow) and is a novel that bridges Year One and Year Two of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson spectacular.
If you visit the publisher's web page, there is now a working order link to get yourself a copy.
Also, a new novel, Children of the Gods, based on a story by Johnny Byrne and written by William Latham, has been published.
My Year Two opus, The Whispering Sea is also nearing publication, and should hopefully be released in March.
This book bridges "The Metamorph" and "The Exiles," and recounts Maya's (Catherine Schell's) first steps on Moonbase Alpha. The story also develops the ideas I laid out in my post on the blog, The Horror Mythology of Space:1999.
Please support my work in print, especially if you love Space:1999, and visit Powys Media today.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
2-XL is a “robot with a personality” manufactured and released by Mego Corp. in 1978. This small robot is an “electronic toy” and “comes complete with 8-track cartridge, instruction, and game booklet.”
On the box, 2-XL is described as:
THE TALKING ROBOT THAT WILL
Ask you True-False Questions
Ask you multiple-choice questions.
Tell you if you are right or wrong.
Give you the correct answer.
Give you more information on different subjects.
Play games with you and your friends.
A whole range of “additional 2-XL tapes” were also available at local toy stores of the day including.
Sports: “For the sports fan in the family, 2-XL sports tape is programmed for exciting questions, jokes, riddles on all sports, football, basketball, baseball, hockey, water sports, etc. Test your knowledge against the coach, ‘Uncle Brainy.’”
Games and Puzzles: “A tape of funny and challenging games and puzzles for the entire family complete with game book. Various levels of difficulty. Great for parties or those rainy days.”
Guinness Book of World Records: “What was the longest frankfurter ever made? Who was the shortest woman who ever lived? What was the world’s hopscotch record? Hundreds of challenging questions from the Guinness Book of World Record for hours of fun.
Science Fiction: “For science fiction, Superhero lovers. Includes jokes, facts on fictional characters, superheroes, and famous science fiction characters.”
Metric System/Education: “2-XL introduces your family to the Metric System. In his own special way, 2-XL ‘educates’ and amuses as he translates the metric system into ‘English.’ A must tape for all members of the family before those speedometers change to kilometers. And square yards into square meters.”
Interviews with Great People from History: “Did you ever chat with Alexander the Great, or Daniel Boone? Let 2-XL introduce you to the great personalities of history in the most fascinating Talk Show ever.”
Monsters, Myths and Legends: On the trail of Bigfoot, Dracula and Frankenstein, 2-XL encounters the scariest monsters of all time. It’s spine-tingling adventures ahead in our ghostly gallery of myths and legends.”
50’s and 60’s Nostalgia: 2-XL turns back the clock to the fabulous fifties and sixties as he tests your knowledge of intriguing trivia – Elvis, the Beatles, the Brooklyn Dodgers and Gunsmoke to name a few.”
Other cassettes included Astronomy/2-XL in Space, Believe This or Not, Adult Games and Puzzles, Animal World, Storyland: 2-XL and the Time Machine, U.S. Presidents and American History and The Basics of ABC’s.
The wondrous and boxy 2-XL, who came equipped with a voice that sounds like Lou Costello’s, was re-modeled in the 1980s to be less boxy, and somehow less fun.
Below you’ll find TV commercials for 2-XL in both of his incarnations.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The Possession (2012), from producer Sam Raimi and Nightwatch director Ole Bornedal utilizes a “true story” scenario as the basis for its horrifying tale of demonic possession. In particular, the story of a diabolical “dibbuk” (demon) box came to light some years ago when the owner of the box attempted to sell it on E-Bay, apparently fearing for his safety and life.
The dibbuk box (or wine cabinet, actually…) has since been the subject of TV specials and a book, and the tale certainly makes for some good copy in relation to The Possession. As I’ve written before, the old horror gimmick of intimating that a story is true increases considerably a production’s sense of immediacy and urgency.
What interests me most about this “true” story is the manner in which we allow items such as the “cursed” dibbuk box gain traction or power over our imaginations. While I was writing this review, for instance, the computer cord to my wife’s computer, half-way across the office, fell suddenly from her desk and hit the wood floor. And when I looked back at my computer keyboard, five ants were crawling on it...something that has never happened to me in my life. Then just now, as I proofread this review, my laptop’s screen went black for a moment for no apparent reason.
Did these strange events occur because I was daring to write a review of The Possession? Or did they occur because my cat Lila, unseen by me but present in the room, knocked down the wire? Because I had finished eating my lunch a few minutes earlier and left some crumbs near the keyboard? Because I’m writing on Microsoft software and hell, it’s always glitchy?
My only point here is that once you become convinced that something sinister boasts an influence over you and the events around you, it’s really easy to gaze at all succeeding facts as evidence of that theory. Is the dibbuk box actually cursed with some kind of ancient malevolent power? Or do we create the negative vibe from our own fearful imaginations and blame the box?
I only wish The Possession would have tread more deeply into this idea instead of going for a kind of boiler-plate demonic possession narrative and structure. The movie would have been a lot scarier, actually, had it attempted some level of ambiguity about what was really to blame for the dark events in the lives of the central characters.
But because The Possession is so straight-forward, horror lovers may be disappointed with the film. It is relatively tame in terms of action and violence, so much so that is rated PG-13, not R. And if one is familiar at all with the general outline of demon possession films, The Possession follows that pattern with relatively little variation, surprise, or ingenuity.
That structure goes something like this. A nice family is shocked and horrified when a child begins acting strangely. The behavior worsens, and science can’t help, so religious authority is brought in to exorcise the demon inside. The exorcism succeeds one way or another (by vanquishing the demon and/or directing the demon to another body), and then the young person is restored, and the family healed too.
Certainly, that’s the pattern of The Exorcist, and just because The Possession involves Hebrew spirits and religious material, that doesn’t differentiate the material to a substantial or meaningful degree. Therefore, The Possession is relatively safe in terms of the scares it presents, and since the horror genre is about pushing decorum and boundaries, that’s a problem.
The Possession stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Clyde, a man who has recently divorced, but who doesn’t want to be divorced. His wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgewick) has left him in favor of a smarmy dentist, Brett, played as if a closet sociopath by Grant Show. Clyde moves into his lonely new house, and sees his two daughters, Emily (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport) only on the weekends.
One weekend, Clyde and the girls visit a yard sale, and Emily buys the aforementioned dibbuk box. After the strange box is opened and strange relics -- including a human tooth, a ring and a moth -- are found inside, Emily begins to act strangely. She reports at one point that she doesn’t even feel like herself anymore.
At first, Clyde and Stephanie blame their divorce for Emily’s increasingly anti-social behavior. But before long, Clyde is certain that the strange Hebrew box has released a demon, one that is possessing his youngest daughter. Clyde enlists the help of a Jewish rabbi’s son, Tzadok (Matisyahu) to expel the demon.
When he can’t do so immediately, Clyde invites the demon to take him and release Emily…
The Possession strikes upon a workable metaphor or sub-text involving the family and demonic possession, and in some sense, that’s the most intriguing aspect of this horror film. In particular, The Possession really concerns divorce, and the impact of divorce upon young children.
Emily is deeply depressed by her parents’ separation, and though her violent, anti-social behavior is ultimately attributed to the exorcism, it could clearly be attributed to her unsettled family life as well. At one point, her high-school principal comments on how Emily no longer finds joy in learning, and has grown distant from her friends. That doesn’t sound like demonic possession so much as it does depression.
Viewed in this light, The Possession is about a splintered family that learns to act as a unit again, and save one of their own from darkness.
The problem, of course, is that this metaphor clearly has no merit in terms of the film’s presentation. The audience has no doubts about Emily’s problem, given the ridiculous prologue, which features the dibbux box pounding and abusing an old woman.
The relative predictability of the character responses, especially the obligatory disbelief of the mother, who would rather believe that her husband is beating her daughter than countenance the prospect of something supernatural, also poses a problem in terms of predictability. Even the film’s final sting in the tail/tale -- which allows room for the dibbuk box to return and haunt another family in the inevitable sequel -- seems familiar to horror movies from here to eternity. It’s all just a bit pro-forma, or pre-packaged.
The scariest scene in The Possession is not the exorcism itself, which fails to improve on the gold standard, dramatized in Friedkin’s 1973 film, but rather an apparently routine visit to the hospital. While Emily undergoes an MRI scan, Stephanie and Hannah see visual evidence of the demon lodged inside her, living in her chest. There’s actually a demonic creature hiding in there, and it looks absolutely terrifying.
The scene is so effective because we all, perhaps secretly, long for science to provide us concrete proof of things that go bump in the night. Here, even science backs up the tale of demonic possession. Of course, there’s no narrative follow-up. The MRI pictures aren’t presented to the world to prove the existence of demons.
For every mildly effective moment like the MRI scan sequence, The Possession features several that don’t work. For instance, at one point Brett is struck with the dibbuk box curse. His mouth begins to bleed and his teeth suddenly fall out. He staggers to his car and drives away, conveniently never to be seen again.
What happened to him? Where did he go? What does he believe now? The film doesn’t even feature a throwaway line indicating that “Brett is gone, and not coming back.” In other words, he’s a convenient foil for Clyde early in the story, when the patriarch is separated from his family and forced to endure Brett’s presence at the head of his dinner table. But once the family is back together, Brett is just a superfluous loose end, not to be seen or heard from again.
Also, Tzadok reveals in the third act the method by which to make the dibbuk leave Emily and return to the box. Its name must be spoken aloud. Yet during the actual exorcism, Tzadok fails to speak that name for a terribly long time, thus allowing the possessed Em to escape custody, and setting up a jump-scare scene of Clyde wandering in the dark, in search of her (in a morgue, of all places).
Given the real-life particulars of the dibbuk box, the story in The Possession just isn’t terribly interesting, stimulating, or surprising. The film is well-made, well-acted and well-scored, but also almost completely lacking in scares and invention. In the final analysis, The Possession just can’t exorcise the searing memory of Friedkin and Blatty’s The Exorcist, which even forty years later remains a landmark film in the genre.
Monday, January 21, 2013
A reader, Skeptical Gnostic, writes:
“Hi Mr. Muir, I wanted to know your thoughts on a Prometheus theory I have.”
“Now, the evolution of the xenomorph still hasn’t been explicitly explained (yet), but really, to retain a sense of mystery that was robbed in sequels, all we needed to know was that it evolved from simple beginnings at one point in time; the crew in Prometheus merely set off a chain of events that the engineers already experimented with thousands perhaps millions of years prior and the parasite evolved over time to be the perfect weapon. All we saw were some missing links in the early beginnings of the xenomorph so there was more than enough to suggest that this is how they began and obviously they evolved.
Now, It’s quite clear to me and many others I've spoken to that the xenomorph evolved from worms; worms are hermaphroditic, they shed skin, they lay eggs, they have no eyes, they sense light and will move away from light...Newborn xenos are worm-like in morphology indicating their worm/hammerpede ancestry (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny), they have no eyes, they shed skin, they appear hermaphroditic and xenos are well known to be afraid of fire. Notice how the hammerpede had acid for blood? Notice how it strengthened its constriction around Milburn’s arms when it was touched? Quite obvious clues there. Over time the hammerpedes mate and lay eggs (remember there were a few swimming around in the ampule chamber) and every generation evolves; growing fingers and more efficient ways of depositing embryos inside hosts.”
“So now we know what came first; The Queen or the Egg? Neither; it was the black-goo, worms and hammerpedes. The worms and the hammerpedes are an example of the Chekhov’s Gun trope and I think the uber-facehugger (Trilobite) and the deacon are red herrings. It’s all implied right there in the film, and we see an indirect route of the process with the black goo used on human intermediaries that resulted in an uber-facehugger and a deacon xenomorph. What we see there is just common descent; in evolution may organisms share common descent if they have a common ancestor, which in the film is revealed to be the black goo. And since there are several temples on LV-223 this implies several versions of the xenomorph bioweapon.”
“Also, notice how the deacon infant wasn’t worm-like? It had no tail...Another clue was a deleted scene showing Milburn finding the shed skin of the hammerpede...Scott and co probably thought it was too obvious a clue! Worms as the ancestors of the xenomorph corresponds directly with H.R. Giger's life-cycle.”
“What do you think?”
Hi, Skeptical Gnostic. Very intriguing stuff. I noted the presence of worms in the film with avid interest, and wondered about them, so your theory definitely dovetails nicely with the details of the text.
Truly, you have struck on the thing about Prometheus I love so very much: it is open-ended enough to inspire speculation on the part of the audience. Where I have read some people complain about the fact that the film doesn’t tie up every loose end, or spoon-feed us ALL the information, I feel that many folks -- yourself included -- are absolutely inspired by the film to think about all it has to say…and all it is trying to tell us. Who are the Engineers? Is that Earth in the first scene? How does the xenomorph develop in terms of a life cycle? These are questions the film raises, but doesn’t definitively answer.
In my opinion, Prometheus is a great work of art precisely because it doesn’t fill in all the gaps, and thus leaves us the possibility (and glory) for multiple interpretations. I certainly see no reason, right off, why your theory doesn’t fit with what we see on screen, or learn from the filmmakers.
I last watched the film about two months ago, for the fifth time. But rest assured, when I watch it again next (and I will…) I’ll have your thesis close at hand, and be actively considering it!
Thanks for giving me something to think about, and obsess upon, regarding one of my favorite films.
Don’t forget to ask me your questions at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com
|A court room of the 23rd Century.|
Specifically, just about every cult TV series in history has, at one time or another, put its heroic lead character on trial.
Through almost universally wrongly accused some of these unfortunate souls have even negotiated -- perhaps in honor of Kafka -- alien and draconian brands of justice and punishment.
Seeing so many episodes featuring sci-fi heroes standing trial, decade-after-decade, franchise after franchise, you might wonder about the "why." Is it just the fact that court-room drama is intertwined with mystery...and who doesn't love a good mystery?
Or has the sci-fi court room drama become a staple of the genre because we all wonder about the shape of justice in our future, a future of new breakthroughs, no doubt. Since sci-fi deals with technology and shifting senses of morality, the sci-fi "crime and punishment" episodes from various programs really get to the heart of human nature and the human quest for justice.
In the first season of the original Star Trek (1966 - 1969), in an episode titled "Court Martial" Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is tried by Starfleet Command. The charge is criminal negligence in the death of a crewman named Ben Finney (Richard Webb). The ensuing trial is prosecuted by Kirk's old girlfriend, Areel Shaw (Joan Marshall), though certainly she should have recused herself, given the nature of the relationship with the defendant.
|Identified by Brian: The Outer Limits: "I, Robot."|
|Identified by Brian: Star Trek: "Court Martial."|
|Identified by Brian: The Starlost: "Children of Methuselah."|
|Identified by Brian: Battlestar Galactica: "Murder on the Rising Star."|
|Identified by Brian: Buck Rogers: "Testimony of a Traitor."|
|Identified by Brian: Doctor Who: "Trial of a Time Lord."|
|Identified by Brian: Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Encounter at Farpoint."|
|Identified by Brian: DS9: "Tribunal."|
|Identified by Chris G: MST3K: "Agent for H.A.R.M."|
|Identified by Brian: Farscape: "Dream a Little Dream."|
|Identified by Brian: Millennium: "The Well Worn Lock."|
|Identified by Chris G: Justice League: "In Blackest Night."|
|Identified by Brian: The X-Files: "The Truth."|
"...if I was given a chance to identify with any character on television, I would choose Spock. I admire him, I like him and I respect him. I would rather be identified with Spock than any other character on television."
- Leonard Nimoy discusses his admiration for the famous half-Vulcan, Mr. Spock at MTV Geek.