Saturday, December 16, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Far Out Space Nuts: "The Three Spacekateers" (October 9, 1975)

In “The Three Spacekateers,” two alien beings arrive on the planet surface where Barney (Chuck McCann), Junior (Bob Denver) and Honk (Patty Mahoney) are repairing their lunar lander. After meticulously cleaning a faulty Electric Guidance System, Junior manages to get dust in it and damage all Barney's work.

Angry, Barney calls Junior “useless” and Junior runs away, feeling sorry for himself. The next morning, he sees the landing of the alien saucer. These aliens (called Sporians) mistake him from their mission leader, “Junio.”

Junio is supposed to help them capture their female ruler from evil aliens call the Troyax.  Now, they are stuck with Junior, who arranges to invade the Troyax fortress, and distract the evil aliens with a magic show. Barney and Honk help out.

But the real Junio has also arrived on the planet…

It’s a case of comedic mistaken identity this week on Sid and Marty Krofft’s Far Out Space Nuts (1975), as the bumbling Junior is mistaken for an elite trainer of soldiers, the gold-skinned alien Junio. 

Much of the humor in the episode arises from the fact that Junior keeps getting things right, though always completely by accident. For instance, he accidentally leads the aliens to the mountain that houses the enemy fortress. Then, when he arrives there, here accidentally discovers the “ant-gravity” rocks that can carry the team to the summit of the same mountain. He’s a bumbling idiot, but this week, a lucky bumbling idiot.

The evil Troyax this week look like the Gill Man from the classic movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), though with some of the fish-elements lessened a bit. They may have been commercial masks from the time, only modified for use here.

In terms of special effects, this episode features many shots of the alien flying saucer flying over the land-scape, and some chroma-key shots to integrate the two Klingon-like aliens into the shot with them. At one point, the footage doesn’t quite match up, as the two humanoids seem to grow inordinately in size.

Finally, the mistaken identity concept breathes new life into an episode with a familiar plot line: Junior and Barney restoring a (female) royal to her throne. One wonders why so many female leaders are being dethroned in this universe, and why only the galaxy’s two worst bumblers can help them get their power  back.

Next week: Flight of the Pippets”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Challenge of the Super Friends: "Revenge of Gorilla City" (November 4, 1978)

In “Revenge of Gorilla City,” an episode of Challenge of the Super Friends (1977), Grod convinces his allies in the Legion of Doom that they must take over peace-loving Gorilla City. Long ago, he was banished from the peaceful metropolis.

Now, Brainiac has developed a mind amplification device that allows the Legion of Doom to enslave the city-dwellers.  Only the city’s King, Solivar, escapes this brain-washing, and manages to warn the Super Friends of the danger. Unfortunately, Superman is far away, in Galaxy 13, pulverizing asteroids.

Rescuing the city of intelligent simians is more difficult than it might seem, too, because Toy Man has created a Kryptonite toy airplane that can immobilize the Man of Steel.

“Holy Gorilla Warfare!” Robin exclaims in “Revenge of Gorilla City,” a story that blends a Planet of the Apes (1968)-style civilization with a superhero story. 

Grod -- the only criminal in the history of Gorilla City -- takes out his revenge on his people, and the episode’s big set-piece is a “royal hunt” of the Super Friends by the mesmerized apes and the Legion of Doom. So, think Taylor, Landon and Dodge under attack, but throw in the DC characters for good measure.

We learn much background about Grod and his civilization in this episode. Gorilla City is hidden under a dome of invisibility, near Bogota, and rests on huge deposits of gold. The Super Friends and the Legion of Doom know about its existence, and apparently Grod has been frothing at the mouth to return there and wreak his vengeance. King Solivar is a noble leader.

Here, everybody drives to the city in moon buggy-type vehicles, and the Legion of the Doom invention of the week is the brain wave amplifier by which Brainiac can establish mental control over the city's denizens.

This week, Wonder Woman is the hero who wears a helmet in space, but no space suit (last week it was Batman), and it’s confusing why she even bothers. Clearly, the writers of the episode understood that some protection is required in space, but didn’t want to give her a space suit, apparently.

Lastly, the Super Friends state a variation on the line that is repeated every week on Challenge of the Super Friends: “Not if we can help it!”

Next Week: “Swamp of the Living Dead.”

Friday, December 15, 2017

Movie Trailer: The Last Jedi (2017)

Star Wars Week 2017: Standing in Line to See Star Wars in 1977

I recently watched the (intriguing) documentary The People vs. George Lucas, and the news camera footage of folks standing in line for The Phantom Menace (1999) and other Star Wars prequels at first seemed quite odd to me. 

I mean, at that point in our national history, there was no need really to stand in line – or camp out in line as the case might be – to see any particular film. The distribution paradigm of carpet-bomb wide release makes the very idea of standing-in-line something of an anachronism, it seems.

But, in my heart, I suppose I do understand why some fans chose to stand in line awaiting a new release in the popular old franchise.  Standing-in-line is a communal experience first, one allowing fans to connect to other Star Wars fans and to plug-in to the community’s sense of enthusiasm and excitement  And secondly, standing-in-line now likely qualifies as a nostalgic experience for older fans, at least for ones of my (advanced) age.

Because let me tell you, back in the day, if you wanted to see Star Wars (1977) or The Empire Strikes Back (1980) or E.T. (1982), for that matter, standing in long lines was absolutely an unavoidable part of the experience.

I will always remember the summer of 1977 and the coming of Star Wars.  I was in second grade at the time, and a friend who lived up the block from me in Glen Ridge came to school with a Star Wars movie booklet; one that featured imagery of Dewbacks, Banthas, Tusken Raiders, Jawas, C3PO, Chewbacca, Darth Vader and other characters of seemingly impossible and unbelievable imagination. 

I had never seen so many strange creatures assembled between two covers, and I so listened in awe as Stephen, my friend, described the film to me in some detail.  I still didn't quite understand why robots were co-existing with monsters and other creatures. It seemed...weird.

At this point, I should add, I was still high on King Kong (1976), and could not quite believe that any movie might possibly surpass that particular viewing experience.  So sue me.  I was seven.

Soon after my introduction via Stephen to Star Wars, my parents took me and my sister to see the film at a movie theater in Paramus N.J., and I couldn’t wait to see what I would make of the movie.

Only -- in actuality -- I could wait. 

In line. 

For close to three hours. 

The line at the theater stretched around the large rectangular building -- around three corners -- and then led out into the huge parking lot. And the line moved at a snail’s pace.

Finally, of course, we got into the auditorium, and it was absolutely packed. Everyone in my family had to squeeze past other patrons to find four seats together.

And then the movie started and my life changed.  That night before I went to bed, my mother asked me if I liked the movie. My mind was still reeling, and I said that I did.  But I suppose I was a little reserved. 

She then absolved me of my guilt: “It’s okay, John if you liked it better than King Kong,” she said, apparently sensing my loyalty and allegiance to the big ape.  My façade cracked quickly at that point and I was glad and relieved to admit the truth.

I had liked Star Wars a whole lot better than King Kong.  It was…amazing, like nothing I had ever imagined.

By the time The Empire Strikes Back arrived in theaters in 1980, I knew to expect a long line.  And so did my parents.  Before queuing up for the sequel, they bought me Star Wars and Shogun Warrior comic books to read for the wait.  I also had my Star Wars novelization in hand, and a few action figures in my pockets.  The time in line still seemed eternal, but again, the wait was worth it.  I left the theater wondering how on Earth I was supposed to wait for three years to discover Han Solo’s fate.

Then, by the time of Return of the Jedi, there was no need to stand in line, at least in Montclair, N.J., where I saw the film at the Clairidge Theater.  I came out of the film deflated, thinking “that’s it?”  And now I must wonder if my disappointment came about at least a little bit because I missed waiting in line.  There was no build-up to the experience, and no plugging-in to the enthusiasm of other Star Wars fans and even general audiences. More likely, the movie was just disappointing, and the experience played almost no role.  Right?

Of course, I’m glad that, by and large, we don’t have to wait in line to see movies anymore…unless we choose to. 

But I do wonder what the lengthy standing-in-line experience meant in terms of a movie meeting or not meeting audience expectations.  By waiting for hours in line for a film, were we just relieved to be inside -- in the air conditioning -- and therefore more receptive to a film’s spell? 

Or did the waiting-in-line actually build up our anticipation to such a degree that nothing could meet those expectations?  I wonder.

I do know this for certain: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. certainly surpassed my wildest expectations, and those are the films I remember most vividly standing in line for.

Ranking Star Wars Now (Before The Last Jedi)

Star Wars: Best to Worst:

All right, there you have it: the Star Wars series as ranked by me at this minute, on the fly.

I reserve the right to think about it, and go over it. Some days, I prefer Revenge of the Sith to The Phantom Menace.

I don't think I would shift either the #1, #2 or #8 slot, but the rest is all in motion.

Ask JKM a Question: Star Wars, Has it Been Good for Cinema or Bad?

A reader, Beth, writes:

I recently read your book Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of the 1970s and would like some clarification on a particular point.  

I realize I might be reading between the lines, but do you believe that Star Wars had a negative impact on science fiction cinema?

Hi Beth, that’s a terrific question.

What my book said -- and the idea I stand by -- is that Star Wars dramatically changed the nature of the science fiction cinema (and science fiction TV, for that matter). 

I feel I can make that case without arguing pro or con regarding the value of Star Wars influence.  But since you asked, I will argue my side too.

First, the case that Star Wars changed the sf cinema:

Before Star Wars, the science fiction cinema of the 1970s was concerned primarily with two ideas: apocalypse and dystopia. 

Thus we had films such as No Blade of Grass (1970) the Planet of the Apes sequels (1970-1974), The Omega Man (1971), Z.P.G. (1972), Zardoz (1973), Soylent Green (1973) and Logan’s Run (1976) to name just a few of the titles.

George Lucas himself began his sci-fi career with a film in this dystopian mode: THX-1138 (1971).

Following the blockbuster trajectory of Star Wars, a strong fantasy and swashbuckling component came into the genre. 

Escapism became the key defining factor of sf cinema.

We had films such as Star Crash (1977), Message from Space (1978), and so on. Notice that some of these titles seem to have a grounding not in science fiction, necessarily, but in Western movie tropes translated to the final frontier.

Even James Bond went to space in Moonraker (1979).

Instead of pondering the end of the world, or the future shape of mankind, many post-Star Wars films featured adventure, mysticism and multi-colored laser battles instead.  Politely put, this shift could be described as a dumbing-down; a movement away from big, controversial ideas and towards special effects showcases.

Yet it is undeniable that Star Wars proved that science fiction could succeed at the box office in a big way, and therefore I judge its influence as quite positive.  

The film itself is brilliantly-achieved, a blast of raw energy and hope in a (largely) cynical and down-beat decade. The film is a lot of fun, but let's not forget that it is something beyond entertainment. It presented us, in meticulous detail, the brilliant idea of a "lived in" universe. It re-purposed and re-imagined old serial tropes in a way that made them feel fresh

Without the arrival of Star Wars, additionally, it is doubtful that Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) would have been made.

Without Star Wars, we might not have gotten Alien (1979), a truly magnificent film in terms of production design, and its revolutionary view of space travel (blue collar space truckers, for lack of a better term). 

Even some films from the immediate post-Star Wars era that have been widely dismissed as Star Wars knock-offs had something of value, philosophically, to offer. The trippy and dark ending of The Black Hole (1979), elevates that movie above its juvenile shoot-em-up qualities. 

Similarly, Glen Larson’s theatrical version of Battlestar Galactica (1978) was really a fascinating Cold War allegory worrying that we would sell out our nuclear store for the possibility of a fake peace with the Soviet Union.  It was Peace Through Strength…In Space...with chrome robots.

So a careful reviewer with an eye towards history could say that Star Wars changed science fiction cinema -- moving it into deep space and other galaxies, and elevating the escapist aspect of the genre -- but that it didn’t gut the science fiction cinema of its guiding principle: to comment on mankind, his nature, and his future.

Yes, Star Wars was so successful that Hollywood producers fell all over themselves getting silly, empty-headed “space” fantasy movies into theaters. 

But other, cleverer producers, saw that Star Wars gave them an opening to work in a genre that was suddenly incredibly popular. By the 1980s, the success of Star Wars had laid the groundwork for big-screen, big-budget adaptations of the works of Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clarke, for example.

So, no I don't judge Star Wars' existence of influence as negative.

On intellectual and critical grounds, I would not want to see Star Wars subtracted from film history.  Not merely because I feel it is a great and worthwhile film, but because I feel it opened the doorway for a lot of great movies, even if its success altered the nature of science fiction for a few years.

On personal grounds, I would also not want to take Star Wars out of film history. As a second grader, the film was revelation to me. It changed the direction of my life in so many ways.

Now, I feel this way today, I might add, as a qualifier. 

We’ll be getting a new Star Wars movie every year for now until eternity. Disney is strip-mining the property, and this will make Star Wars seem less like a special event, and more routine.  We know there have been difficulties, behind the scenes, on Solo (the Han Solo movie), due out next year.

Let’s make a date to revisit this discussion. Ask me again in five years if Star Wars has had a positive influence on the cinema of ideas. 

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at