Stargate 1.17 – Solitudes

For our second feature this evening, we got to enjoy seeing our son fib a little. “Solitudes” seems to be a popular episode of the series, and one which introduces another important feature which will become important as the rotten Colonel Maybourne character gets started with his plans a bit later on. This feature is revealed in an admittedly interesting little twist toward the end, but until that point, the hour is entirely Amanda Tapping’s. Our heroes immediately abandoned a recce of a new planet when they drew fire from some unknown force.

Daniel and Teal’c made it back to the base, but some combination of the enemy’s energy weapons and bad luck dropped Jack and Sam in a cave on an ice planet, with a Stargate that’s been abandoned for centuries buried with them and almost powerless. Jack is severely injured, with several broken bones and internal bleeding, and fades over the several days that Sam tries to get the Gate working. Richard Dean Anderson doesn’t have a lot to do in this story; the situation is down to Amanda Tapping trying to stay hopeful and optimistic as the device refuses to work as expected, and running out of faith. She carries this episode on her shoulders and does a great job as things get grim.

When the rest of the heroes finally figure out how they can find Jack and Sam, our son quietly but visibly reacted with fists clenched and eyes wide. Then he quietly boasted that he knew it all along. Of course you did, kid. One day he’ll figure out it’s more fun when you truthfully tell the rest of your party that you didn’t see the twist coming.

Jack of All Trades 1.10 – Dead Woman Walking

Our viewing schedule’s going to have a minor interruption this weekend, so we doubled up tonight. First up, a completely hilarious episode of Jack of All Trades that was written by Hilary J. Bader, who wrote for a lot of adventure shows around this time. This time, Emilia perfects a concoction that puts people into a temporary death-like coma and drinks it herself so she can catch a graverobber who works out of Pulau Pulau’s mausoleum. Then the governor sends her to be cremated. The anachronistic gags were all terrific, and since our son is at the age where zombie apocalypses are the coolest things ever, the sight of Angela Dotchin pretending to be one of the undead to scare the bad guy into going straight had him in stitches.

Galaxy Express 999 (1979)

Galaxy Express is a weird, strange and really entertaining film from a period of animation that I look at with a lot of nostalgia. I’ve mentioned here before that there were a heck of a lot of interesting animated movies hitting the big screen from around 1977-83, from studios in Japan, the US, and the UK, and Express is a perfect example from that period. Directed by Rintaro from a storyline by Leiji Matsumoto, the movie is a retelling of key elements from a much longer television series, itself an adaptation of a weekly comic written and drawn by Matsumoto and his studio. The theatrical version actually wrapped up its version of the narrative about two years before the TV show reached its climax in a quite different way, so there are a few versions of the story, depending on how audiences chose to view it.

In the world of Galaxy Express, most of the planets and moons have been colonized, and humans who want to live forever can trade in their humanity for mechanical bodies. These are available for free on a distant planet, and that’s where our pre-teen hero wants to go. Years before, his mother had been murdered by the villain Count Mecha, and this tough kid, named Tetsuro, wants revenge. A mechanical body might give him the upper hand, but at what cost?

Unfortunately, the body might be free, but getting to the planet is something only the wealthiest can afford: by purchasing a ticket on a space-faring ship called the Galaxy Express that looks like an old-fashioned steam engine. A mysterious and beautiful woman named Maetel helps Tetsuro get a ticket, and seems like she’s on his side, but she keeps her secrets, and Tetsuro is warned to not trust her.

I enjoy Galaxy Express for lots of reasons, but one that shined this morning is that this may sound like a science fiction story, but it’s really more of a fairy tale than anything else. Incredibly strange things happen in this movie, and they’re explained with poetry, not with science. At one point, approaching the planet Pluto, the temperature inside the train drops. This isn’t because of a problem with the heating or because it’s Pluto, and therefore cold, but because Maetel reasons that this part of space is haunted by the souls of all those who died trying to get here. It isn’t rational, but it isn’t meant to be. It’s an explanation from a bedtime story and it’s lovely. And then there’s the way that absolutely nobody knows where Count Mecha’s Time Castle will materialize next, except for the only people that Tetsuro asks about it.

Our son continued his habit of being entertained and amused by the oddest things. He especially liked Count Mecha’s castle, which has room for “ten trillion games of hide and seek” and which the count decorates by leaving piles of skulls on the staircases. There are all of the trappings for an adventure movie for kids, right down to a bridge way, way above the ground that disintegrates once Tetsuro races back across it. Supporting our heroes in this story are two other Matsumoto characters from his interconnected stories: Captain Harlock and Emeraldas. They help out in the great big space battle at the end, which is the sort of billion-explosion spectacle that live action movies just couldn’t do in 1979, and our son was in seventh heaven. He said he liked the characters just fine, which is good, because he might just see ’em again a time or two.

Galaxy Express is a film that’s looked better and better to me over the years. Back in the mid-eighties, I got to know it through nth-gen bootleg copies. One of Roger Corman’s companies released an incoherently-edited dubbed copy that chopped out almost a quarter of the movie, Tetsuro was renamed something like Joey Hana-canana-be-bi-bo-fana Smith, and the guy doing Captain Harlock’s voice spoke like the talking cowboy hat in Lidsville. A little later, somebody found a subtitled copy, but the copy was so far down from the source material all that I could hear on mine was tape hiss. Viz Media put out a new dub on VHS in the mid-1990s. My own tape was sold or traded or snatched or lost years ago. I upgraded to Discotek’s DVD recently, and their Blu-ray’s said to be even better. If you’ve got anybody aged eight to thirteen in your house, I’d say this film’s a must. Grownup viewers might grumble at the strange science, but kids understand magic a little better and they’ll probably like this movie a lot.

Additional readin’: Check out Dave’s report at Let’s Anime from a few years back. You watch this film at home and you’ll wish you could’ve seen it on a big screen in Toronto with him!

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.5 – Escape from Death Island

Our son observed that Corky has “an interesting character trait. He only remembers things when he has a fever!” He’s right; that is a cute quirk.

Afraid this was the second hour of TV that we watched today that I didn’t enjoy very much. There’s a MacGyver about a hell-prison run by corrupt officials that we suffered through a couple of years ago and I immediately rolled my eyes when I realized this was going to the same place. The MacGyver episode has a solitary-confinement-death-trap called the Box. This one has the same roasting-in-the-hot-sun deal called the Oven. I don’t know much of anything about the genre of hell-prison movies – not even that one with Sid Haig and Pam Grier that I’m sure to enjoy when nobody’s watching – but I’m betting most of them have Boxes or Ovens.

There was a familiar name in the guest credits. “Hey, Mickey Morton,” I said. “Who’s he?” our son asked. “He’ll be the the big guy,” I said. And indeed he was. That brought to mind another, much, much better episode of MacGyver, “The Secret of Parker House,” when I spotted Ray Young in the credits and waited for the big guy.

Stargate SG-1 1.16 – Enigma

Shows like this are as good as their villains, and “Enigma” introduces just about the most repulsive and infuriating villain this show comes up with. Going back to what I said a few chapters back about loathing our country’s military-industrial complex, Col. Harry Maybourne, played by Tom McBeath, makes his first of about a dozen appearances in this story, using his position in military intelligence to undermine the Stargate Program, ignore everybody’s wisdom and experience, and try to acquire alien technology at any cost. I really wish that the series never took this direction. McBeath will later get a couple of chances to make his character less repugnant and more human, but it never really works with me, and the program as a whole would be more satisfying to me without him in it.

I also picked this one because it introduces an important new alien race, and their leader is the episode’s other central antagonist. These are the Tollan, and they’re centuries ahead of humanity in their understanding of science. Unfortunately, their people’s first contact with another species led to that species blowing themselves up with their new toys, so they have become strict isolationists and refuse to share knowledge or tech with primitives like us anymore. Unfortunately, ten of them got caught up in a volcanic eruption on their dying planet and can’t get to their new homeworld, which is outside the Stargate system and accessible only by spacecraft. So they’re refugees on Earth, and their leader is a deeply unpleasant and obstinate jerk who stinks up every scene he’s in.

But since the Tollan will become a more interesting bunch once he’s out of the way, and central to some key episodes, we needed to watch this one. Garwin Sanford starts a recurring part here as a Tollan called Namin, and this time it’s Carter’s turn to share some lip time with somebody who wants to know more about this Earth thing called kissing. Well, the Tollan know it already. Our cultures share a few oddball customs. Eventually one of the Nox, the fairie folk that we met in episode seven, comes to Earth and brings this mess to a conclusion.

That said, there’s a much, much more interesting story here that we did not see. One of SG-1’s pals, from an episode that we skipped, happily comes to Earth, the first representative of his people to do so, to offer the Tollan refuge on their world. It’s staged well, with the USAF members in formal dress, and the pal thanks General Hammond for allowing him to visit. The Tollan leader is a snide and dismissive jerk because the pal’s people are even more primitive than Earth, shutting down that possibility. But I’d like to think that the rest of the pal’s visit went really well after the embarrassing awkwardness of the meeting, and the pal got to visit the Denver Art Museum, and the Botanic Garden, and either see a show at Red Rocks or a Nuggets game. Maybe get to know more about this Colorado thing called Coors.

The Bugaloos 1.4 – Courage, Come Home

Proving that I never had much connection with the sort of people who waited impatiently for a new Harry Potter book and rampaged through it in a single night, having tracked down a reasonably-priced copy of Rhino’s out-of-print Bugaloos set, my son and I are watching the episodes at the rate of about one a month. And proving that my head might not be screwed on straight, here we go watching the episode where Caroline Ellis dresses up in a maid costume, a sight which has probably been making lustful teenagers spontaneously combust since 1970, and I give you a picture of John Philpott with some silly glasses on instead. Well, it is his episode.

Our son honestly runs a little hot and cold with this show. He enjoyed the absolute daylights out of “Our Home is Our Hassle,” which we rewatched last month, and guffawed all the way through it. “Courage, Come Home,” written by John Fenton Murray, is an amnesia story, and I guess my boy has reached the age where he’s seen one amnesia story and has realized that he’s consequently seen all amnesia stories. Another factor might be that instead of starting with some gags and silliness and taking a break for a musical interlude, this episode begins with our heroes singing their lovely bubblegum song “Come Away With Us.” I think it’s a pleasantly sunny piece of period pop that easily stands up alongside hits of the day by the Archies or the Cowsills, but he was ready for the show to get moving already.

So eventually Courage loses his memory thanks to a whack on the head in a storm, and Benita convinces him that he’s her nephew Melvin and can do all the cooking and cleaning now that she’s fired her incompetent henchmen. It’s really amnesia-by-numbers, although it has a few fun gags like the henchmen forming a picket line and the Bugaloos dressing up like her new staff – a maid, a cook, and a “gentleman’s gentleman,” though what Benita would need with a “gentleman’s gentleman,” we probably don’t want to guess – and it raised a smile or two, but overall this was nowhere close to being as funny as the previous episode.

Jack of All Trades 1.9 – Croque for a Day

Here’s a plot as old as the hills: the incompetent governor is in danger of being replaced by somebody actually competent, so the heroes who count on his incompetence need to convince the inspector that things in the colony are running very smoothly. I think Sergeant Bilko had to protect his dimwit commanding officer from being replaced, didn’t he? Or maybe I’m thinking of Top Cat and Officer Dibble. Whatever, you’ve seen this story before, and it doesn’t matter, because it’s incredibly funny. (Leave your favorite example in the comments, readers!)

Complicating matters: Jack’s alter-ego, the Daring Dragoon, has inspired three groupies to dress like him and stick it to the man at entirely the wrong time. So while Jack is impersonating the governor and unable to save these well-meaning girls, Emilia has to take costume, sword, and silly one-liners in hand. This means that Bruce Campbell is speaking in une autrageous Fronch accent and Angela Dotchin is using a bad teevee American voice while saving the day. It’s a tremendously funny half hour that had us all laughing throughout.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.4 – Legends are Forever

“Legends are Forever” is pretty much exactly what I thought this show would be like when firing on all cylinders. I know it can’t be as silly and fun as this every week, but, with the caveat that the television of forty years ago was a little more willing to embrace stereotypes, this was really watchable and entertaining.

This time, an old pal of Jake’s shows up in Boragora with a very unlikely story: there’s an African tribe that resettled on a nearby island several decades ago. One of their representatives has been looking for help shipping medical supplies and quinine to combat an outbreak of malaria. This seems so very unlikely that Bon Chance Louie decides to join the expedition. What they find is really neat: the narrative of one of those H. Rider Haggard books about King Solomon’s Mines is true, and a tribe did move from Africa to live in a Pacific Island volcano among the clouds, accessible only by a long bridge. However, this tribe has been in a very long war of attrition with a local tribe called the Bogas, who resent the Africans moving into their islands. Since the malaria has several of the tribe’s warriors too sick to fight, the Bogas are starting to get the upper hand, and just getting the supplies up the mountain looks impossible.

Perhaps it’s just my 21st Century eyes, but I really didn’t like the Bogas being portrayed as violent ooga-booga types armed with an infinite supply of poisoned darts. It seemed too much like they were mindlessly violent just so our “modern” heroes are justified in gunning them down. So that feels like it’s aged really, really badly, even if some of the few remaining uncontacted tribes on our planet are also known in reality to be really aggressive toward interlopers. We talked a little with our son about this.

One downside about taking inspiration from larger-than-life heroes and treasure hunters like Allan Quartermain – as both Raiders of the Lost Ark and this series did – is that those heroes came from a world of colonialism and patronizing attitudes toward “lost world” natives. You can’t really get the search for lost gold without the attitude within the narrative that it’s the white educated man’s mission to find it. It entertained, but it also aggravated. Getting older’s like that sometimes.

Stargate SG-1 1.15 – Cor-ai

Every once in a while, watching TV you’ll run into an installment which is so far superior to everything else around it that you just have to marvel at just how brilliantly everything comes together. I’m down on a lot of the first two years of Stargate SG-1 for many reasons, like the rampant plot holes and the lack of imagination and the feeling that some of these alien cultures are what the writers had pitched to the ’90s Star Treks without success. But “Cor-ai” does something that Trek never could: it very matter-of-factly reminds us that one of our core four is a war criminal. All of the actors bring their A-game to this story, and Don S. Davis is never better than when General Hammond dresses down Jack and underlines that point. Teal’c isn’t an American citizen, he isn’t an Earth citizen, and running into a culture that wants justice for the crimes he committed was bound to happen sooner or later.

And speaking of the acting, Richard Dean Anderson and Christopher Judge have an absolutely electrifying scene where Jack tries to remind Teal’c that they are both soldiers, and that a chain of command overrides free will. But Apophis, played by Peter Williams in flashbacks, isn’t here to answer for Teal’c’s crimes. And Teal’c is resolved to die, to answer for the murders he committed for so many years, which makes defending him really difficult even if our heroes were familiar with this planet’s system of justice.

This episode was a bit heavy for our son, and he didn’t enjoy it as much as others, but I think it’s completely terrific. It’s not flawless – I’d have preferred the characters debate their way to a conclusion rather than letting a third party storm in and unwittingly settle it – but for tackling a moral issue without softening it and for all the great performances, this is by miles my favorite episode from the show’s first two years, and probably in my top five or six overall. I’ll try not to be too down on the next several installments for not being a tenth as good.