Saturday, December 06, 2014
In “Magic Claws,” Korg (Jim Malinda), Bok (Bill Ewing) and Tane (Christopher Mane), hunt a bear, but only succeed in wounding it. Bok is afraid.
Bok, the great hunter, feels humiliated by his fear. “The bear has made me nothing,” he says, and falls into a deep depression.
With Bok in a funk, Korg experiences a vision one night from the “Great Unseen Spirit.” The spirit tells him that Bok must carry the claws of the Great Bear with him on his person, and if he does so, his great hunting abilities will return.
Bok believes the vision, and the family resumes the hunt for the bear…
In the final moments of “Magic Claws,” Mara (Naomi Pollack) questions Korg directly. Did he really have a vision from the Great Spirit? Or did he just fake the vision so that Bok would return to his normal self?
Korg’s answer is a deflection. “Does it matter?” He asks, rhetorically. “Bok has found his courage…”
So here we have another Korg episode (like “The Exile”) that looks very closely at religion and human nature. In “Magic Claws,” Korg falsely conjures a vision of a God so as to engineer a social good for his brother. He lies, in other words, and claims to speak for God.
Korg’s actions are fascinating here, and suggest an uncomfortable truth about species: that man has manipulated the religious belief of his own kind since before he could write, for the purposes of social-engineering.
The dictates of the Great Spirit in “Magic Claws,” indeed, foster order and routine in a world where such things are of great importance. Korg’s family cannot survive without Bok acting as hunter, so Korg does what he must to keep Bok in that role. He lies, and claims that an outside force wants Bok to be the hunter.
In this way, religion is important, we can see. It sets down unquestionable laws in a world where lawlessness could de-stabilize everything, but as Korg suggests, it is not what it claims to be: the word of some supernatural being.
Korg behaves as he does here to protect his family, and in a pro-social way. But what happens when the word of God is invoked in an anti-social way by a trusted leader? To launch a war? Or to accuse people of witchcraft or other crimes? History is dominated by such examples.
How would Korg like it, for example, if Tor invoked a vision of the Unseen Spirit to suggest he can no longer collect fire wood, or fetch water?
Agree or disagree with the episode’s point of view, it’s rather amazing that Korg 70,000 BC -- a series that aired forty years ago on network television, in a slot for children -- challenged the concept of religion.
Today, we are much more conservative as a nation in terms of our entertainment, and I wager this episode wouldn’t even get on the air without a rewrite that excluded the idea that Korg “lied” and pretended speak for God.
In “The Vigilantes,” BraveStarr and Thirty-Thirty make return trip to Fort Kerium only to come upon a dangerous ambush on the way. Dingo Men have captured a vigilante who is bound and determined to kill Tex Hex.
The vigilante wants BraveStarr to look the other way, but BraveStarr warns him to break no laws.
Then the vigilante becomes a “rabble rouser” in Kerium and starts “stirring things up,” so that a mob will go after Tex Hex. Again, BraveStarr must intervene because as much as he hates Tex Hex “it is wrong for one person to be judge, jury and executioner.”
If you ask me, one of the worst things to happen in our modern popular culture is that many audiences have accepted vigilante justice as a noble or worthwhile thing. Laws are for wusses, right?
“Revenge” has become an acceptable (and common) motive for so-called heroes and superheroes, and I find that fact highly disturbing. A reader said it here on the blog not long ago in regards to The Lone Ranger: heroes are supposed to follow the rules.
That’s what makes their task or challenge so difficult. The bad guys break rules every way possible, but heroes must remain true to their values even in the face of such “cheating.” They have to succeed in a way that ennobles them not that drags them down into the sewer with the antagonist.
Or they’re not heroes.
“The Vigilantes,” an episode of the late 1980s Filmation-produced animated series BraveStarr gets to this point quite ably. A man in Fort Kerium wants to get rid of Tex Hex, but comes to loggerheads with the good town marshal because even though their agendas match their methods do not.
As BraveStarr asserts “the law is what lots of people decided on.”
Unless and until the law is changed, that means no one has the right to break it, even if -- as the vigilante states -- “your puny laws do not work on crooks like Tex Hex.”
Bravestarr as a series, then, doesn’t elevate vengeance as a noble purpose or, even, as a valid choice. I would certainly like to see big budget films (especially in the superhero genre) take this stance, but I’m not holding my breath. As BraveStarr says, “Do right…and others will follow.”
I also appreciate the episode’s stance that “Shooting hardly ever solves a problem. Usually, it makes it worse.” I also feel that this is a lesson our pop culture must re-learn. Guns are legal, cheap, and fully protected by law in America, but carrying a firearm comes with a great moral responsibility, and in my youth, heroes like Marshal BraveStarr took that responsibility quite seriously.
Filmation always featured message-heavy stories, and sometimes the moralizing gets a little old, a little preachy, a little thick. But on some topics, episodes such as “The Vigilantes” also provide a nice gut check about paths that need not be taken.
Friday, December 05, 2014
[As always, beware of spoilers.]
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference in terms of found-footage horror movies.
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) seems to understand this fact, and tweaks the familiar formula just enough to make the low-budget horror film seem fresh for much of its running time.
While it is true that the movie runs out of steam a bit in its third act, the film’s set-up is rock solid, and the movie is buttressed by a strong lead performance from Jill Larson. She creates in Deborah Logan a dignified, private individual that you come to truly care for. It actually hurts at times to watch Deborah’s physical and mental degeneration.
And though the movie concerns possession and Satanic rites, the underlying allegory here is about something else, something very real and very disturbing: the way that disease takes our loved ones away from us, a dramatic, monstrous piece at a time.
Indeed, the twists that elevate The Taking of Deborah Logan involve the story’s premise -- the recording of the daily life of an Alzheimer’s patient and her care-giver for two months -- and the unexpectedly realistic behavior of one memorable supporting character: Gavin (Brett Gentile).
On the former front, our main characters are not fame-seeking wannabes (as is the case in many found footage films), but rather a sympathetic student, and the family member of a very sick woman.
And on the latter front, a key character realizes what is really happening to Deborah, and cuts bait before he dies a horrible death. In one of the film’s most inspired moments, Gavin leaves the group recording Deborah’s experiences.
He drives away in a car, never to return, and we -- the audience -- for once have a legitimate surrogate.
An evil spirit possessing an old woman in a big, abandoned farmhouse, and communicating through an old switchboard machine?
I would be out of there in a flash, just like Gavin.
Hit the gas pedal and burn rubber...
The Taking of Deborah Logan features a strong first act too, because it diagrams exactly the steps Deborah will go through as Alzheimer’s progressively ravages her mind. The straight-faced approach to her condition (replete with documentary-style infographics) makes the film feel all-too real. And though the movie dips in quality a bit leading up to the finale, the ending sequence, set in a dark, subterranean mill by a river, successfully evokes a genuine -- and choking -- sense of dread.
So I was impressed by this film (which is free on Netflix). The Taking of Deborah Logan feels like a legitimate genre discovery because it proceeds with intelligence and guts, and doesn’t shy away from the questions and emotions that much more deeply ground the film in reality.
“There are no small tasks for Alzheimer’s patients.”
A graduate student named Mia (Michelle Ang) and her camera crew prepare to spend two months with Deborah Logan (Larson), an Alzheimer’s patient, and her caregiver, her daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsey).
The subject of their film is the physiological pressure that the disease can create not just in the sufferer, but in those who take care of the patient over a long duration.
Deborah is resistant at first, because she is a “very private person” and doesn’t want to be the butt of a joke. When Sarah convinces her that Mia’s intentions are educational, she acquiesces.
At first, Mia and her camera crew, including Gavin (Gentile) record normal interviews with Deborah.
The film crew learns that her husband died very early in their marriage, and she was left to take care of young Sarah by herself.
She did so, by running a telephone switchboard service for local professionals: doctors, lawyers and the like.
Soon, however, Gavin’s cameras begin to capture the fact that Deborah’s artwork has turned inexplicably dark, showcasing a looming figure in her garden, one lurking ever closer to the house’s windows.
Worse, Deborah experiences several night terrors in which she goes to the attic and operates the old switchboard machinery on the precise channel of a client long believed to be dead.
The sounds from the machine are analyzed, and strange, inhuman voices are detected.
Deborah also develops a strange rash on her back…like snake scales, and seems to be progressively losing touch with reality.
Mia and Sarah investigate the switchboard and learn more about the mysterious channel and the strange person who once made calls on it.
The history of this individual involves a local mass murder, and an old mill in the woods…
“I don’t think I’m the candidate for you.”
The Taking of Deborah Logan spends a good deal of running time exploring the effects of Alzheimer’s, and showcasing Deborah’s degradation, over time. For example, she begins to lose the capacity for organized thinking, and we see her several times stop in the middle of a seemingly mundane task, unable to motivate herself or collect her thoughts.
These moments are heart-breaking, and Jill Larson is so sympathetic and effective in this role. One gets the impression that Deborah is a kind of regal, private woman, but not particularly open or affectionate. Suddenly, her whole life is on a platter -- for all to see -- and she must reckon with behavior that even she acknowledges is odd, or at least abnormal.
The film also reveals, in horrifying dimensions, how Alzheimer’s patients typically end up. One shot of a dying patient in the hospital is real nightmare fodder in a real world sense. The poor soul is contorted, her face locked in an expression of abject agony.
This is not a way anyone would want to die. Or could imagine dying.
As the movie moves into more fantastic territory, involving a Satanic ritual that grants a petitioner immortality, the film sacrifices some of its hard-earned verisimilitude, but not enough to preclude your continued interest. By that point, you feel invested in Deborah, and also in Sarah, her refreshingly candid and open daughter.
The film’s lowest ebb comes in the scenes involving the local crimes, and the gentleman who was behind them. It all feels a little pat, a little too concrete. The Taking of Deborah Logan works best in terms of its ambiguity, when the audience isn’t certain if Deborah is just losing her mind, or becoming impacted by an evil presence. All the stuff about devil worship and the doctor who practiced it is stuff you’ve seen before, and distinctly ‘meh’ in presentation.
Yet several moments in the first few acts are downright scary, and marked by jump-out-of-your seat scares of the highest impact. One scene involves Gavin’s discovery of Deborah’s art-work by an open window…during impenetrable night. Another genuinely terrifying moment involves a sojourn into the dark attic, to that switchboard machine of the damned.
The scenes set at a hospital -- which involve the kidnapping of a virgin child -- are not nearly as compelling or interesting as anything that happens in the farmhouse, but the film’s climax is boosted by the Blair Witch-like setting and the visual approach.
Specifically, the film switches to night vision view as the survivors descend into a dirt-floored mill near a river bank, and seek to discover what Deborah has done with the missing child. There’s a genuine feel of claustrophobia and unpredictability about what happens in this nightmarish, effectively-shot location. But again, for some it may be a bit too fantastic in nature.
It’s entirely possible that The Taking of Deborah Logan could have focused less concretely on the Satanic/demonic angle and tread more fully in that realm of lingering uncertainty, where audiences couldn’t be certain which demon -- medical or literal -- was affecting a character of great dignity.
The film’s final sting, too, is pretty weak, and seems to undercut much of the intelligent debate about disease, and how it not only impacts those who suffer from it, but those around them too, who must not only see the disease progress, but lose their loved ones little by little, inch by inch. It’s difficult to know who has a more torturous time here, Sarah -- who has real issues with her Mom, but nonetheless takes care of her -- or Deborah, who is smart enough to realize that she is slipping away.
The Taking of Deborah Logan is a smart horror film when it hews to these ideas and characters, but far less so when it focuses on the familiar mechanics of the genre: pyrotechnics, gore, and twisty-gimmicky endings. Deborah’s final, bizarre transformation is one that is entirely unnecessary in a film that has created such a rich, scary atmosphere.
Still, for the first hour or so of The Taking of Deborah Logan, you’ll be convinced you’ve walked into a latter-day found-footage masterpiece. So much so that the film has enough momentum, even considering its third act, to keep you entertained, and more than that, riveted to the screen.
Thursday, December 04, 2014
My new list at Flashbak considers the five best Starlog covers, and the three worst ones.
Here's a snippet and the link (http://flashbak.com/the-5-best-starlog-magazine-covers-and-the-3-worst-26845/ ):
"Before the Internet Age, sci-fi geeks had to get their information about upcoming genre entertainment the old fashioned way: from print magazines, sold at the local newsstand, or delivered to your mail-box via monthly subscription.
From 1976 to 2009, Starlog Magazine – more than three decades -- reported extensively on the world of science fiction television, movies, and literature. The mag featured columns by “The Trouble with Tribbles” author David Gerrold (first “State of the Art,” then “Rumblings,” and then “Soaring.”) Starlog also featured David Hirsch’s detailed and informative updates about the world of Gerry Anderson (“Space Report,”) in particular, behind-the-scenes information on Space: 1999 (1975 – 1977).
The magazine featured great retrospectives from the likes of great writers such as Lee Goldberg and Jean-Marc Lofficier, and interviews from the meticulous film scholar, Tom Weaver.
Starlog also grew up at the same time I did, and at exactly the right time, covering the release of Star Wars, and the post-Star Wars boom that brought us Alien (1979), The Black Hole (1979), Meteor (1979), Moonraker (1979), and Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
As a kid who grew up in the seventies and eighties, I remember the rush of discovering a new issue of Starlog, whether at a vendor location (mine was at the Englishtown Flea Market in N.J.), or in the mail. It was always a thrill to see the cover of the magazine, and find out -- at a glance – what magical entertainments were impending.
With that thought in mind, here are five of my selections for the best Starlog Magazine covers from the span 1976 – 2009, as well as those for the three worst."
Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us from Evil (2014) -- a big-budgeted, half-baked police procedural horror film -- is all the evidence you need that much of the genre’s energy, excitement, and originality these days comes from indie, micro-budgeted filmmakers.
With Deliver Us from Evil’s thirty million dollar price tag, a filmmaker might have made ten films like Jennifer Kent’s cerebral The Babadook (2014) or Leigh Janiak’s intimate Honeymoon (2014).
But instead, we get this movie: a witless, lifeless, often incoherently packaged mass “product” with familiar jump scares and virtually no trace of imagination or inspiration whatsoever.
Derrickson is a skilled filmmaker, and his previous films evidence great talent. I’m a big supporter of The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), for example, and Sinister (2012) had moments of raw, diabolical power.
Derrickson’s next project is the Marvel film, Doctor Strange (2016) so let’s hope Deliver Us from Evil represents a temporary aberration from the director’s typical good work.
The central problem with Deliver us From Evil is that everything about it feels old and off-the-shelf.
Movies of this type were in vogue in the 1990s -- at least twenty years ago -- when the horror film was experiencing an identity crisis of sorts.
Specifically, the form was struggling to move into the homogenized “A” studio list -- or the mainstream -- meaning that it had to front famous actors, and appeal to a wider demographic base. Invariably this concern meant coupling horror with another genre: the crime movie, and subtracting many of the genre’s most imaginative or fantastic touches.
In short, you’ve seen this story before, many times, when it was called The First Power (1990), Fallen (1998), and End of Days (1999).
Nothing that occurs in this film is fresh, or is orchestrated in such a way as to make the leftover material feel fresh. Even some of the filmmaking basics -- including continuity -- are botched here.
Eric Bana does his stony best with the thin gruel he is provided here as Officer Sarchie, a lapsed Catholic cop who learns the error of his ways and spiritually re-enlists, teaming with a progressive (and smoldering…) young priest, played by Edgar Ramirez.
But even Bana’s stolid, dependable presence can’t deliver this movie from a terminal case of mediocrity.
“You know, when your radar goes off, you usually end up in stitches…”
In 2010, a trio of American soldiers in Iraq pursue insurgents into a subterranean lair. There, they find a strange altar, and encounter something…evil.
In 2013, Officer Sarchie (Bana) of the LAPD and his partner Butler (Joel McHale) begin responding to several strange incidences in the city involving those returned vets. Sarchie, in particular, is troubled by the cases, which cause his cop “radar” to go off.
After Sarchie apprehends a woman at the zoo who threw her baby into the lion exhibit, he is met by a Castilian priest, Ramirez (Mendoza), who reports to him that the crimes he is seeing in the city are spiritual in nature. Sarchie rejects this explanation, at least at first.
Meanwhile, a malevolent force seems to zero in Sarchie’s family…
“I renounce all evil.”
Police-procedural horror films can be problematic for several reasons, but none more so than the fact that the main characters involved often feel like clichés.
Virtually all films of this type feature a handsome hero cop who flouts the rules to get the job done, and is gifted with an insight the others lack.
The role has been played by everyone from Denzel Washington to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bana plays Sarchie here, a man equipped with a “radar” that senses evil. Bana is hunky and wholesome as Sarchie, but the character lacks any quality that would meaningfully distinguish him, or make him memorable. I presume that the real Sarchie -- who wrote best-settling accounts of his cases -- is a far more colorful and intriguing personality than what the screenwriters conjure here.
In the police procedural horror film, the hero cop character is frequently accompanied by a comic-relief partner who is loyal and funny (or at least, wise-cracker-ish)…and who likely won’t survive the picture, thus providing an excuse for the hero’s righteous vengeance.
Joel McHale essays that role in this film, following in the footsteps of John Goodman (Fallen), and Kevin Pollak (End of Days), to name just two talents who have played this utterly thankless role.
And speaking of Fallen, that movie suggested a demon’s favorite song was the Rolling Stones’ “Time is on my Side.” (1964). The demon in that film could also switch bodies but he kept humming, whistling and singing that trademark tune so you knew he was nearby. The demon in Deliver us from Evil, however, prefers the catalog of the Doors, because the band’s name means “portal,” and demons come through portals, you see.
But the work of the Doors is put to roughly the same use in Deliver us from Evil that the Stones’ tune was put to in Fallen. Same song, different band. And that, my friend, could be this movie’s epitaph. It’s a cover version of a horror movie you’ve seen at least half-a-dozen times.
In most of these police procedural films, the villain is supernatural in nature, and the detective’s family is, inevitably, threatened by that evil. It happened to George C. Scott and his family (in the vastly superior Exorcist III ) and it happens to Sarchie and his brood here. Only in this case, the involvement of the family feels rote, like the screenwriters were rigorously following a blueprint.
Gee, we need to keep Sarchie emotionally involved through the final act…let’s have the demon capture (but not kill) his family.
Thus, in this film, it’s all about the recipe for making the sausages, and getting from point A to point B to point C. That observation may be true of all films, in a sense, but the sausage-making is woefully transparent and familiar here, and that’s disappointing.
What I appreciated so much about The Exorcism of Emily Rose was that it found a way to handle possession in an original and thought-provoking fashion, becoming a weird (but successful) fusion of legal drama and horror film. Deliver us From Evil could have used some of that same sense of innovation and imagination.
Although the film features some atmospheric second-unit footage of NYC at night, thus creating a sense of a modern Babel or Sodom and Gomorrah, other technical aspects of Deliver us from Evil are shockingly slipshod. For instance, one early scene sees Sarchie going to a house to stop a domestic disturbance -- his radar has pinged -- and his wrist is cut open and badly bloodied by a perp. Sarchie then gets tended to by an EMT.
But the very next scene in the movie involves him pursuing another case at the Bronx Zoo, and his arm wound is gone, miraculously healed.
Then he goes back home to his wife and -- lo and behold -- the wound is back.
This whole portion of the film feels incoherent. Sadly, Deliver us from Evil looks to have been heavily reworked in post-production, which is a sign either of filmmaking by committee or a dramatic re-think of the story late in the game.
Deliver us from Evil also attempts to pad out its running time with the sort of cheap horror “thrill” that I despise and resent. In particular, something weird occurs that can’t easily be dismissed, and yet it is easily dismissed by the characters, or at least left unreported. Here, for example, the water in Sarchie’s aquarium boils. Weird, right?
Wouldn’t you mention it to your wife? Or your partner? Or your ethnic, liberal priest buddy?
What’s so bad about the incidents like this in the film is that they are not motivated by any concrete power of the villain. If the demon is in a human body (and not present near the boiling aquarium…) how did he accomplish this trick?
And if the demon can accomplish such tricks from a long distance, why does he need a human body to possess in the first place?
Deliver us from Evil is pocked with little moments like that, including a roly-poly plush owl that menaces a little girl.
But these amorphous terrors have almost no relation to the rest of the story, which concerns a group of Iraq vets who are possessed. These moments exist in the film only to keep you from nodding off, and to create the impression that something is happening in the flaccid narrative when, in fact, nothing is happening at all.
The film is also woefully simple-minded, at least in terms of theme. Sarchie outgrew his beliefs in Catholicism and for good reason, based on his back-story. But the movie ends with him back in the fold, having his newborn child baptized.
The whole movie has thus been about this man going back to the belief system he rejected, all because of the “fear” this case created.
So the movie comes down to what is, essentially, a fear-mongering Sunday school lecture:
Don’t leave the Church, or the Devil will get you and your family.
P.S. Baptize your children.
It takes the movie an interminable 118 minutes to get to this not terribly deep point.
Perhaps the scariest thing about Deliver us From Evil is that a formulaic, packaged entertainment like this can still get green-lit, and funded to the tune of thirty million dollars.
I’ve seen a lot of horror movies in 2014, and I can’t think of one that I have liked less than this one.
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
The early first season episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 – 1981) titled “Unchained Woman” finds Buck (Gil Gerard) undertaking the futuristic equivalent of an impossible mission.
The man out of time is tasked with breaking a prisoner -- Jen Burton (Jamie Lee Curtis) -- out of an inescapable, subterranean prison on the moon Zeta 3 so she can testify against her boyfriend, Mal Pantera (Michael Delano), who has been ambushing Directorate shipping lanes.
Complicating the mission, Buck must also contend with a relentless and invincible android prison guard whom he has nicknamed Hugo (Walter Hunt).
After escaping from the prison with Jen, Buck has to not only escape Hugo’s pursuit (and deal with hungry sand squids...) and meet Wilma (Erin Gray) at a rendezvous point. He must also deal with an unseen menace: Earth ambassador Warwick (Robert Cornthwaite), who is secretly allied with Pantera.
Watching "Unchained Woman" today, it is clear that the android Hugo is a sort of science fiction missing link between Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger in Westworld (1973) and Arnie’s cyborg from the future in The Terminator (1984). This relentless, incredibly strong individual drives much of the episode’s action and even provides “Unchained Woman” its sting-in-the-tail/tale conclusion.
Although the mission ends successfully, Buck’s android nemesis is still “alive,” still hunting his escaped wards. He is never going to give up. Ever. And in fact, the machine is referenced in a later episode ("A Blast for Buck.")
This is a funny happenstance, in terms of the pop culture, because guest star Jamie Lee Curtis is famous, of course, for being pursued by an unstoppable villain of another stripe, Halloween’s (1978) Michael Myers.
Here, Jen believes she is finally free, but the episode cuts back to Hugo on Zeta's surface, his hand twitching, thus signifying the fact that the nightmare continues.
What remains so intriguing about “Unchained Woman” (and much of Buck Rogers’ first season, as well) is that it focuses on a crime or “caper” story. The prison break-out story, for example, is a genre trope, seen on such programs as The A-Team and the tongue-in-cheek The Lone Gunmen (2000). The story itself is familiar, even old, but the writers for Buck Rogers cleverly adapt all the 20th century clichés to the 25th century setting thus making them memorable, and in some sense even fresh.
Here, we get an underground prison on Zeta 3 (two-hundred feet beneath the surface and carved “out of bedrock”), an explosive medallion, android prison guards, a decontamination chamber, and prison identification bracelets. These trappings are inventive enough to make the story feel fresh. The episode's director, Dick Lowry, creates a lot of tension from the fact that the prison is inescapable, and Buck's only method of getting out, the aforementioned medallion, is torn from his neck and thrown in a garbage bin.
When you couple these futuristic trappings with Buck’s sense of humor and quips, “Unchained Woman” emerges as quite the entertaining romp. For example, here he notes, with apparent appreciation, that prisons have gone “co-ed” since his era. At another juncture, he considers an android’s law-and-order “motto” (“On Zeta, they do things right…”) and suggests it would make a good bumper sticker. Gil Gerard makes such a good series lead because he can alternate readily between sincerity and humor without either emotion seeming forced. "Unchained Woman" puts those talents to good use.
Every sci-fi TV series possesses its own unique alchemy. Buck’s is ably represented by this episode: crime-related “caper” tales in which Buck goes undercover, helps someone, and cracks wise along the way, all while contending with the technological "miracles" of a de-humanized future age.
The nice thing about this formula is that it can be varied to be more serious (like the brilliant “Plot to Kill a City,”) more horrific (“Space Vampire”) or even a bit more on the comedic side (“Cosmic Whiz Kid.”)
I still remember watching “Unchained Woman” for the first time, and worrying about how Buck was going to stop an unstoppable android. The episode’s cleverness comes from the fact that --in the final analysis -- he doesn't accomplish the impossible. The androids still functions, and is still out there, in search of his prey.
“Unchained Woman” is a fun episode of the series, bolstered by some nice location shooting in the desert, and some good special effects, such as the matte painting of the outpost called Station Post 7.
Several Battlestar Galactica (1978 – 1979) costumes get recycled there, but it hardly matters. And one final bonus of Bill Taylor's teleplay is a rare subplot involving Dr. Huer's back-story and friendship with Warwick. Huer (Tim O'Connor) is a truly interesting character, a principled leader who grew up in a time of famine and ascetisim, while Earth was climbing back on its feet. Buck Rogers rarely took the time to focus on the character, but "Unchained Woman" reveals his true humanity, and his sense of decency, and loyalty.
Mego acquired the merchandise license for the 1979 revival of Buck Rogers and used the feature film (originally a TV-pilot) as the basis for its many toy designs, including Buck’s Starfighter Command Center and Buck’s Laserscope Fighter.
Today, I want to remember the action figures from the series themselves.
Nine were released all together, including Buck, Twiki, Wilma Deering, Killer Kane, Ardella, Dr. Huer, Tiger man, Draconian Guard and Draco.
If you watched Buck Rogers in the 25th Century on television with any regularity, you’ll immediately pick up on some of the discontinuities between the program and the toys. Specifically, Pamela Hensley’s character was named Ardala, not Ardella. And Kane -- a character played by both Henry Silva and Michael Ansara – was never referred to by the nickname Killer Kane.
Finally of course, King Draco appeared in the pilot/movie for about twenty seconds and was never seen again on the series. Not even once.
Despite such problems, I always enjoyed these three-and-three-quarter inch action figures. They could fit easily inside the Land Rover, the Draconian Marauder and the Starfighter, and in general looked a great lot like their video counterparts. The figures’ drawbacks included the fact that they came with no accessories, not even laser guns or helmets.
And additionally, like The Black Hole action figures from Mego of the same vintage, these Buck Rogers figures could break very easily because all their joints were held together by silver pins. Those pins had an annoying habit of loosening up or even falling out.
I still remember seeing Buck Rogers in the 25th Century in theaters. Afterwards, my parents took me to a Toys R Us store to buy me two action figures. I was able to find Buck and Twiki and was pretty happy about it. Our next stop was a carpet store and while my parents shopped, I flew Buck and Twiki around the huge store filled with rolled-up rugs.
In short order, however, Buck’s interior elastic snapped, and the hero came apart into many pieces. The very first night I had him! Buck’s “accident” left me only with Twiki…which was a big disappointment.
The astronaut had survived five hundred years as a popsicle only to spontaneously combust in a carpet store.
When we arrived home, my Dad glued Buck Rogers back together, but the poor guy was never quite the same, being now unable to move his hips.
How could he teach my Princess Ardala figure how to boogie?
By the time Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 - 1981) aired on NBC, I suppose you could state I was primed to love the show. I had "grown up" through Star Wars (1977) and Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979) and had seen The Black Hole (1979), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and Moonraker (1979).
But the nice thing about Buck Rogers was that the series, unlike many of those other titles, didn't take itself too seriously. The program, starring Gil Gerard and Erin Gray, boasted a great sense of humor, at least during the first season.
Mego released a good-sized line of Buck Rogers toys and vehicles back in the day, but HG Toys also got into the act, recycling and retro-fitting a pre-existing play set as the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Galactic Play Set. It came complete with "over 35 pieces" and a nice diorama/backdrop.
This HG Toy set included a "space station with movable ladder, 2 Draconian marauders, 2 starfighters, 8 space commandos, 10 aliens," and "fully detailed figures of Buck Rogers, Wilma Deering, Killer Kane, Dr. Huer, Tigerman, Draco, Twiki and Princess Ardala."
Also present: "a colorful diorama set-up and assembly instructions."
I have fond memories of playing with this particular play set, because I took it on a cross-country vacation with me. My family traveled (in our new Ford van) from New Jersey to California and back over the span of six weeks. Space was tight since we were traveling for such a duration and this one of the few toys I was allowed to bring along. I set it up in camp sites from Lake Michigan to Lake Tahoe. On days where we seemed to be endlessly driving through desert terrain, I also set up the Galactic Play Set in the back of the van and played with it, though the bumps in the road could occasionally wreak havoc.