Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Dream Monster" (December 21, 1966)

In “The Dream Monster,” an alien scientist called Sesmar (John Abbott) approaches Penny (Angela Cartwright), and marvels at her emotional reaction to a beautiful flower. 

He has constructed a biped android, called Raddion (Dawson Palmer), who is perfect in every way except for one: he cannot experience human emotions.

Sesmar realizes, however, that he can transfer emotions from human beings to Raddion using a strange camera and “transpirator” cards. 

The scientist recruits the cowardly Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) to rob the Robinsons of their emotional states, including John’s leadership, Maureen’s love, Will’s curiosity, and so on. 

Only Major West (Mark Goddard) sees through the plan, but he is not able to prevent the family from losing its humanity.

West and Smith team up to defeat Sesmar, and save the Robinsons from a future without emotions.

“The Dream Monster” is not a terrible episode of Lost in Space (1965-1968), and is actually pretty good in light of some episodes of the second season.  

Although it lacks the frightfulness of “The Wreck of the Robot” and the intrigue of “Prisoners in Space” (both season highlights…) this story nonetheless makes a good point about human emotions.  They may be troublesome, and dangerous at times, but they are worth it. 

They are the things, actually, that drive us to achieve, to be our best.

“The Dream Monster” commences with a heat wave on the planet. The Jupiter 2’s air conditioning system has failed, and everybody is hot…and irritable. West acts, literally, as a “hot-head,” finding fault with John’s (Guy Williams) comments; believing they are directed at him. Maureen, meanwhile, can’t find Penny, and is agitated.

Everyone is short-tempered with one another because they are physically uncomfortable. They let their mood be dictated by their discomfort, and act badly.  

But this kind of short-tempered behavior is the price we all willingly pay for having emotions. For without emotions, John can’t muster the energy (or loyalty…) to be a leader.  Maureen is robbed of the essential quality of love, and as we have seen in the series, it is her love that holds the family together on so many occasions.

And, in the end, West’s emotion of aggression, or bull-headedness combines with Smith’s cunning to save the family. The audience thus understand that even the negative emotions experienced by the Robinsons serve an important purpose.

On those terms, “The Dream Monster” is an intriguing and worthwhile story. I didn't feel debauched watching it.  On the terms that Lost in Space has set for itself in the second story, this particular tale can be described as having some value or virtue.

Other aspects of the narrative don’t seem to work nearly as well as the didactic through-line about emotions.  

There is no valid science behind biophysicist Sesmar’s technology, which robs people of emotions, for example.  

On the other hand, we have all heard those legends of indigenous peoples who didn't want their photographs taken, for fear that the photos would rob them of their souls.  In a very real way, Sesmar's technology -- resembling photography -- does that very thing.  If one accepts that the "science" of Sesmar is beyond the understanding of the Robinsons -- just as the science of photography was beyond those early, indigenous folk -- perhaps the issues of technology aren't so troubling here after all.

I do find it of concern, however, that there isn’t really any motivation for Sesmar to act in the fashion he chooses here.  I would like to know more about him. 

Does he possess emotions?  If he doesn’t, it’s difficult to understand why he would prize them so much for his android.  

And if he does possess them, Sesmar shouldn’t react with such surprise to the presence of emotions in others, right?  

Indeed, his science in the episode automatically and instantly categorizes the emotions of Dr. Smith and the others.  So if his tools so completely understand them, he should do so too.  Yet if that’s the case, why does he react with such surprise and wonder to Penny’s emotions?  

So we are to believe he knows of emotions, doesn't possess them, but prizes them for his android above all other things?   Huh?

The solution at the end of the episode -- destroying the “transpirator” cards holding the Robinsons’ emotions -- doesn’t make a lot of sense, either. If the cards storing the emotions are destroyed, wouldn’t the emotions within them also be destroyed?  Why do these emotions just fly back, as though guided missiles, to those who spawned them?  

The whole point of this technology seems to be to interchangeably move emotional states between people.  So why is there an automatic recall to the source once the emotions are out of the cards?

“The Dream Monster” also feels like a step backwards in the series’ treatment of Dr. Smith.  Here he is right back to the first season’s “Invaders from the Fifth Dimension,” selling the Robinsons down the river to preserve his own skin, and possibly get a ride home to Earth. He is back to his despicable phase here, for sure, and it is a poor creative choice.

But as always, Lost in Space’s merit is not in its deep or consistent science fiction plotting. 

Contrarily, the series' merit rests, in some sense, on its understanding and excavation of the nuclear family and its interrelationships .  We may gripe and bitch with our family members, but we also love them. That's a good lesson to remember as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, right?

That whole equation of "family" breaks down without emotions underlining it.  If we don't "feel" for those around us, they are mere acquaintances.  If we don't feel empathy for others, why bother to go to another planet in the first place and rescue the human race?

Since this story focuses on a building bock of family -- our emotional lives -- "'The Dream Monster" isn't a bad show, or a bad example of Lost in Space at this particular historical juncture (mid-second season).

Next week: “The Golden Man.”

Monday, November 23, 2015

Memory Bank: WWOR TV and Thanksgiving Monsters (From the Archive)

When I was growing up in the New Jersey burbs during the seventies and early eighties there was a great Thanksgiving Day tradition that I’d like to share with you today, on the eve of the holiday in 2015. 

Every year, WOR Channel 9 would broadcast King Kong (1933), Son of Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949) on Turkey Day.

Then, on Friday, the same station would host a Godzilla marathon consisting of such films as King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (1971) and many others. Some years, if memory serves, War of the Gargantuas (1968) also played.

I remember showering and dressing early on those Thanksgiving Days, so I could be lodged near the TV when the Kong movies started.  

Meanwhile, my Mom and Dad would be busy in the kitchen preparing a great meal of turkey, stuffing, baked carrots with cinnamon, and home-made biscuits. The house would fill with the delectable aromas of the feast, and even downstairs -- while glued to WOR-TV -- I could feel my appetite for dinner building.

Our guests, usually my grandparents and aunts and uncles, would arrive sometime in the early afternoon, around 1:00 pm and I would socialize with them, and then sneak back to the family room for more King Kong.  Sometimes my uncle Larry, a horror fan after a fashion, would join me.

Then the meal and dessert -- a chocolate cream pie and a pumpkin pie -- would be served, and we’d all enjoy each other’s company over the delicious food.  After an appropriate interval of visiting and socializing, I’d high-tail it once more back down the stairs to watch more of the movies.

I’m certain my description of Thanksgiving makes it sound weird and anti-social, but you must remember that in the seventies, there were no VCRs (let alone DVRs or movie streaming), which meant that if you wanted to see a movie like King Kong, you had to seize your moment, or else wait for another year.

I believe it took me the better part of four Thanksgivings to see all of King Kong, and then not even in chronological order.  I actually saw the entirety of Son of Kong first, perhaps because it was often scheduled between our early afternoon dinner and dessert course.

This tradition of King Kong Thanksgiving and Godzilla Black Friday continued over a long period at my house -- the better part of a decade -- so much so that I still irrevocably associate the Holiday season with WOR Channel 9 and its monster movie broadcasts.  

I still remember, a bit guiltily, forcing my parents to watch the seventies Godzilla movies on Fridays, while we ate Thanksgiving leftovers in the family room.  My folks liked the King Kong movies, but when it came to Japanese monster movies, they weren’t exactly big fans..

Anyway, if you decide to spend the holiday with giant monsters, make sure to bring the pumpkin pie...and Happy Thanksgiving.

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2015 is nearly here! This national holiday serves the purpose of expressing thanks for your blessings --  a tradition which goes back to 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts

It is a time for family togetherness, counting one’s blessings, and -- yes -- for bad movies and Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Thanksgiving has also featured prominently in many television programs across the decades. 

Two classic“Thanksgiving” episodes first aired in the year 1978.

On Happy Days (1974 - 1984), the episode “The First Thanksgiving” concerned an historical flashback to an early Thanksgiving in Milwaukee, with the Fonz (Henry Winkler) and other characters playing crucial roles.  Ayyyyy!

And on WKRP in Cincinnati (1978 - 1982) the infamous “Turkeys Away” episode featured a radio station promotion for the holiday gone horribly wrong.  The promotion involved turkeys, a helicopter, and reporter-on-the-street, Les Nessman…

In more genre-oriented programming, Dexter Morgan has broken bread with another serial killer – played by John Lithgow -- for Thanksgiving on Dexter (2006 - 2013). 

And Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fourth season featured an episode called “Pangs.” That episode saw the vampire Spike (James Marsters) sharing the holiday dinner with the Scooby Gang, and was gleefully incorrect in terms of its politics, as the holiday devolved into modern day Californians fighting ghosts of wronged Native Americans.

From 1991 through 1995, Mystery Science Theater 3000 celebrated “Turkey Day” with marathons of bad movies.

In particular though, I remember the host segments of 1995, wherein Jack Perkins, Mr. B. Natural, Pitch (A devil…) and the Kitten with a Whip showed up to celebrate Thanksgiving with Dr. Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and his mother, Pearl (Mary Jo Pehl).

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

The Cult-TV Faces of: Thanksgiving

Identified by Hugh: The Munsters.

Identified by Hugh: Happy Days.

Identified by Hugh: WKRP in Cincinnati.

Identified by Hugh: The Simpsons.

Identified by Hugh: Mystery Science Theater 3000

Identified by Hugh: Seinfeld.

Identified by Hugh: Friends.

Identified by Hugh: South Park.
Identified by Hugh: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Pangs."

Identified by Hugh: Smallville.

Identified by Hugh: The Walking Dead.
Identified by Hugh: True Blood.
Identified by Hugh: Supernatural.
Identifie dby Hugh: Mad Men.

Identified by Hugh: Heroes.
Identified by Hugh: Dexter

Sunday, November 22, 2015

At Flashbak: George Plimpton, Voice of Mattel's Intellivision

My second Flashbak contribution this week remembered the era of George Plimpton as spokesman for Mattel's Intellivision:

Here's a snippet and the url; (http://flashbak.com/george-plimpton-voice-mattels-intellivision-45868/ )

George Plimpton (1927-2003) was a Renaissance Man in the truest sense of that word. He was an accomplished athlete, a journalist, a literary critic, a musician and even, on occasion, a comedian.
But my generation probably remembers him best for his spell as TV pitch-man for Mattel’s Intellivision.

Starting in 1980, Plimpton appeared in a series of commercials for the brand new game system, Atari’s biggest rival, and his name became synonymous with Intellivision to Gen X kids.  He starred in nearly a dozen such commercials, and in the process compared Atari and Intellivision head-to-head, preached the value of “Intellivoice,” and even shot a commercial with E.T.’s buddy, Elliott (actor Henry Thomas)."

Continue reading at Flashbak.

At Flashbak: More Games; More Fun - Remembering the Atari VCS

This week at Flashbak, I recalled the dawn of the home video game age, and the arrival in my life (and the culture) of the Atari 2600 (or VCS).

"I officially entered the video game era on Christmas morning, 1978, when my parents -- or was it Santa Claus? --- gave me and my sister a remarkable and unforgettable gift: the Atari VCS (Video Computer System), which also goes by the designation of Atari 2600. I was nine years old.

We enthusiastically the unwrapped the huge, flat, rectangular box, but had no idea what an Atari was. My folks explained, simply, that it is a game you can “play on the television.”

That sounded….different.

My father hooked up the Atari to our family room TV set (a zenith, color model), and quickly unpacked the first game cartridges: Combat, Missile Command, and Space Invaders.

We played Space Invaders first.  And from the first moment the strange aliens began their downward march on screen (to a military-sounding thump…), I was hooked."

Continue reading at Flashbak.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Jason of Star Command: "Chapter 8: Attack of the Dragons" (October 28, 1978)

In “Attack of the Dragons,” Jason (Craig Littler’s) star fire is buffeted by Dragos’ (Sid Haig) electron storm.  He determines that the ship can return to normal space only after the storm is struck by laser cannons.

But as Commander Canarvin (James Doohan) reports, Star Command is a sitting duck, coming under attack by Dragos’ drone interceptors. Still, the Commander manages to fire the lasers and free Jason. 

Jason returns the favor, launching a suicide run against Dragos’ Dragon ship and forcing the villain to withdraw. He succeeds, and Dragos retreats.

For Jason, Nicole (Susan O’Hanlon) and Professor Parsafoot (Charlie Dell) is a home-coming long awaited.

But Star Command has not yet heard the last of Dragos.

This fifteen minute segment of Jason of Star Command (1978-1980) is dominated by very strong Star Wars era visual effects. A Star Fire escapes from an electron storm, and meanwhile, Star Command is buffeted by an enemy squadron.

The effects hold up nicely, with only one caveat.  There’s a lot of model incongruities or dis-connects, largely because of one fact. Some episodes back, Princess Allegra returned to Star Command in a pod, so Jason’s Star Fire is now pod-less, so-to-speak.  However, many effects shots in this installment show confusion over that fact. Some shots feature the pod; some don’t.

Speaking of Princess Allegra (Roseanne Katon), she and Captain Kidd (Brendan Dillon) share the same fate after this show. They are not seen, heard from, or referred to again.  They are written out of the story, going forward.  Perhaps Princess Allegra decided to return home, but what about Captain Kidd?  He’s a man out of another time period all together. Where will he go? How will he get there? What will he do?

Jason of Star Command doesn’t answer any of those questions. Still, Captain Kidd has a nice moment in this episode when he navigates Jason’s Star Fire using nautical tools of a bygone era. 

“Attack of the Dragons” might be considered a kind of section break or pivot point in the sixteen episode first season saga. Dragos is vanquished (temporarily), and all the main characters -- Jason, Nicole, Canarvin, Parsafoot and Wiki -- are back home.

Next week, a regular character from Space Academy returns: Peepo!  That’s in Chapter 9, “Peepo’s Last Chance.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Space Academy: "The Phantom Planet" (October 29, 1977)

“The Phantom Planet” opens with Space Academy on high alert. 

"Chris, have you ever seen a ghost?" Commander Gampu (Jonathan Harris) urgently asks, before revealing on the main view screen how a strange world keeps materializing and de-materializing in space near the unstable asteroid, Proteus 9B.

Gampu sends the Blue Team in a Seeker to demolish the asteroid, despite the presence of the 'phantom planet' and Peepo is afraid. However, Loki is excited. "If you see a ghost," he tells Gentry, "let me know right away."

While Chris, Tee-Gar, and Paul set "tech-nite" charges to destroy the unstable asteroid, Laura, Adrian and Peepo are confronted by a strange ghost in a gray cloak. He beckons them to a cave, but the entrance is sealed.

Adrian blasts the cave open with a laser gun that looks like an office water dispenser jug, and inside the it, she and Laura discover a jeweled cavern. A group of golden eggs are ensconced there, and the ghost appears to be protective of them. Laura and Adrian take one at the ghost's urging, and return to the Academy with the others, beginning the countdown to the destruction of Proteus.

Back at the Academy, however, the alien contacts the cadets again.  It is decided that a séance should be held to determine what it wants.  The team soon learns that the eggs are memory "vessels” containing the ancient the wisdom of an alien civilization. They will "one day open and enrich the lives of people yet to be born," Gampu declares.

Since the asteroid is due to explode in any minute, the only way to safely retrieve the other golden eggs from it is for Laura and Chris to use their newly honed powers of "astro-portation." Thus they astral project themselves to the planet and retrieve all the eggs before the asteroid goes up in flames. Pleased, the Guardian now vanishes for all time, his mission accomplished.

“The Phantom Planet” is either a golden egg or a rotten one, depending on how you choose to look at it, I suppose.

Negatively, the alien guardian or ghost is a cheap, ridiculous-looking creation, like a refugee from a stage production of A Christmas Carol. Furthermore, his "howls" are obviously some actor standing off-stage bellowing like a kid trying to be "spooky" on Halloween night. The ghost sounds like something out of a Scooby Doo episode.

And then -- out of the blue -- Laura and Chris develop the power to astral project? It’s pretty convenient, right?

The story raises other questions too.  Why is the Academy intent on destroying the asteroid (even if it is unstable) once it's known a civilization once thrived there? Seems an archaeology professor somewhere would object to the demolition.  And why would the Academy – a school – be assigned a job in demolitions, especially a dangerous job in demolitions?

On the positive side, I must admit this kind of storytelling.  It has been done well on Star Trek many times, and can work in a science fiction setting. Basically, in plots of this type, space men (cadets or officers) encounters something apparently frightening -- at least on first blush -- only to learn that (to quote Space: 1999), we’re only aliens until we get to know one another. No shots are fired in anger.  

No one is killed.  Understanding is forged.  And a better future is made.

A story like this is about discovery, and overcoming the differences in people. The conflict comes not from anger, revenge, or malice, but from the unknown.

On that foundation, I would argue that “The Phantom Planet” is an entertaining and worthwhile story.  It just happens to be seriously hampered by that bad costume, and bad vocalizations of the “ghost.”

Also, I love the weird, unwieldly laser gun/drill that Adrian (Maggie Cooper) uses to blast open the cave entrance.