Monthly Archives: October 2016

Space Academy 1.7 – Monkey Business

There wasn’t anything wrong with tonight’s episode – it concerned a solar mirror jammed in the wrong position, pointing down at an artificial planetoid – but I guess I wasn’t in the right mood for it. I just kept questioning things instead of taking this inoffensive story on its own terms. For example, I wanted to know…

It’s 1977. Didn’t we already see a kid and a chimpanzee stowing away on this morning’s repeat of Speed Racer? And…

Why are the hangar bays at Space Academy so incredibly huge? Isn’t that a somewhat inefficient use of space?

Ah, well. My son wasn’t distracted by such boring adult concerns. He liked the story just fine.

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Monster Squad 1.9 – The Wizard

The most notable thing about this episode is that they’re running out of safe and comedic ways to have fights without making NBC’s Saturday morning censors upset, so Dracula and the villainous Wizard, played by Arthur Malet, have a swordfight with invisible swords. I think the actors were having fun.

What else? Weirdly, they set up this character in the previous episode. Ultra Witch was trying to get the Wizard sprung from prison, which is the sort of “big picture” world-building that these kinds of kids’ programs very rarely ever did. But the previous episode isn’t actually referenced at all this week, which makes you wonder why they bothered.

There’s also a Jonathan Livingston Seagull gag, because this was the seventies, as well as a lot of gags about patriotism, because this was 1976, specifically. The enormous Mickey Morton played one of the Wizard’s henchmen. He’d be back on NBC in two weeks as a big monster in Land of the Lost. Our son thought this was “pretty cool” and we’re glad that somebody did.

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Mysterious Island (1961)

One of my friends suggested on Facebook that we be sure to show our son some Ray Harryhausen films. Already planned and shelved and waiting to thrill him! We’ve got a couple more coming before the end of this year, but the first Harryhausen picture for our family was one that didn’t have too many wild beasts from mythology or prehistory. Mysterious Island was made by Columbia in 1961. Unofficially, it’s a sequel to Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but we didn’t tell our son that when we got started.

The story is set across several months in 1865, beginning when three captured Union soldiers and a war correspondent escape from a prison in Richmond with a Confederate sergeant as their prisoner. They steal an observation balloon during a mammoth storm and are blown way, way off course. More than a week later, they crash on the other side of the planet. Moving that far, that fast may be the most fanciful thing in this film.

Our stranded heroes rescue two women from a shipwreck and begin the long and arduous process of building a boat to sail more than a thousand miles from this small volcanic island to New Zealand. Along the way, they battle some giant creatures, including a gargantuan crab, a bizarre bird-thing, and a small nest of very big honeybees. So what’s behind all these freaks of nature? It’s none other than Captain Nemo, who did not go down with the Nautilus in 1857 as the world believed. Instead, he steered his damaged submarine to this remote place to continue his scientific experiments in peace.

Earlier this month, I briefly mentioned an episode of Ultraman where scientists were growing mammoth vegetables, and how this trope still hasn’t happened in the real world yet. But it turns out that this idea – growing great big plants and animals to feed the world’s hungry – was one of Jules Verne’s, and a lot older than I suspected. That’s what Nemo’s up to here, and why he secretly assists the survivors from afar. With the Nautilus too damaged to travel, he seizes an opportunity to take some of his experiments back to civilization. Pirates attack the island – my, that happens a lot in the movies we watch – and Nemo sinks their ship and kills them. If they all work together, they can patch the ship and raise it under his instruction, but time is running out. That volcano will erupt soon.

The film’s a good one, if not great. I think it’s one monster shy of where it needs to be, with a little feeling of drag about fifty minutes into the action. Michael Craig is fairly awesome as the Union captain, with great support from Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, Joan Greenwood, and Beth Rogen. The stop-motion special effects are completely amazing, even if some of the processing to blend the live actors in with the creatures is fairly obvious thanks to some poor color-matching. The last, not-very-surprising, monster to appear is the most effective of all, with a great jump-out-of-your-seat moment when it opens an eye.

Columbia had an interesting problem in casting Nemo and designing the Nautilus. Disney and James Mason had completely defined the appearance of the character. He and the story were in the public domain, but Disney’s design was not. So the submarine looks ever-so-slightly different, and Herbert Lom isn’t quite James Mason, but he’s very close. He’s cold and distant, but not cruel like we could see Mason’s Nemo.

We’ve had some really odd opinions about movies and shows from the mouth of our favorite five year-old critic, but he really took the cake this time. He told us that he really liked the film and that it was awesome, but his favorite part – very frequently either the climax or the gag right before the end credits – was the “war part” at the beginning when they escape from the prison. “So your favorite scene in a movie called Mysterious Island is a scene before they actually get to the island?” Besides, he hid under a blanket when the giant crab showed up, so I know he liked that.

Nemo is killed – for real, this time, we think – when the volcano erupts, spectacularly, and the others set sail to carry on his mission of using the power of science to destroy the motives for war. But you know that you can’t keep a good antihero down, right? I’m pretty sure that we’ll see him again one of these days…

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Ultraman 1.10 – The Mysterious Dinosaur Base

The monster Akilla (called Jirass in the original language) really is a triumph of penny-pinching, but everybody, including the audience, is in on the joke. They used Godzilla’s roar, and his radiation breath, and the same actor who wore that suit in the movies. Ultraman couldn’t actually fight the character of Godzilla, because a different company (Toho) owned the copyright, so a little yellow spray paint and a silly frill on the costume that Tsubaraya’s company built was the best way to amuse all the kids in the audience who had been arguing over the last two months about who would win such a brawl.

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Space Academy 1.6 – The Rocks of Janus

Back in the late sixties, when Marvel Comics was throwing all sorts of wild and bizarre ideas at readers and most of ’em, true believers, stuck, Smilin’ Stan and Jolly Jack introduced Ego, the Living Planet, in the pages of Thor. I would gently suggest that Jack Kirby managed the concept of a living planet with a little bit more magic and wonder than Samuel A. Peeples and the Filmation crew could bring to this story of two living planetoids, named Ergo and Tarr.

On the other hand, our son was really quite impressed. “That was SO COOL when the asteroids were alive!” he said. If you insist, kiddo.

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Updates on Thunderbirds, Old and New

Since this blog mostly has both eyes in television’s past, here’s an update we might have missed. The new series of Thunderbirds are Go will begin broadcasting in the UK this weekend, starting Saturday the 22nd with two episodes, and continuing through the end of the year. In the US, these thirteen half-hours will be available for streaming to Amazon Prime members starting on November 4. We’ll be a bit behind the curve with these, as I am old-fashioned and like shiny plastic disks, but look forward to seeing them in 2017.

Speaking of Thunderbirds, I wanted to draw your attention to one of the sites on the little linkroll to the left. Security Hazard is the unofficial Gerry Anderson blog, and one of its weekly features is an astonishingly detailed and image-packed series of episode studies for the original 32 Thunderbirds episodes, spotting reused props and puppets, material shot at different times, and analyzing what footage might have been in the original half-hour versions of the episodes before they were expanded to a full hour. It’s done with lots of love and humor but must be an absolute bear to produce, so do check out this great work and give the writer a thumbs-up so he’ll keep going; this is the sort of incredibly intensive writing that would almost guarantee burnout if I was the fellow trying to do it.

In other quickie updates about material that’s been mentioned in these pages…

* I did buy the Electra Woman & Dyna Girl movie. It’s not suitable for little kids, so we won’t be looking at it together for this blog. It’s not awful, but it’s not making anybody’s top twenty list.

* If Amazon has made any kind of announcement about picking up that Sigmund and the Sea Monsters pilot, I haven’t seen it.

* It looks like Chattanooga is not actually getting the Fathom release of “The Power of the Daleks,” so we’ll probably just start watching that on BBC America on November 19 until the Region 2 DVD gets here.

That’s all for now. More to come tomorrow, and, as four kids in Tranquility Forest used to say, “Don’t forget… to write. We love to hear… from you!”

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Monster Squad 1.8 – Ultra Witch

I was four and five years old when Monster Squad aired, about the same age as my son today, and “Ultra Witch” was the story I remembered the most. In part, of course, that’s because Julie Newmar plays the villain. My dad, who, as dads do, would occasionally look at the silly Saturday morning nonsense his allegedly intelligent son was watching when he could have been doing something productive, shake his head sadly and leave the room, came in the den to tsk-tsk what was on TV, stopped his nefarious dad scheme and sat down to watch her. My father would watch anything – anything – with Julie Newmar in it. Me, too, come to think of it.

(Incidentally, the exact same season Monster Squad was on NBC, over on ABC, the only television program I was ever forbidden to watch was on earlier in the morning. Dad caught a few minutes of Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon Jabberjaw. I don’t know whether it was Jabberjaw’s nyuk-nyuk voice or the unbelievable stupidity – even for a Hanna-Barbera cartoon – of that premise or if he had a really bad headache that morning, but I was sternly told to never, ever watch that program ever again. Dad’s been gone almost six years, but I’m pretty sure the prohibition still holds and I have followed that rule to the letter for four decades without complaint or appeal.)

Anyway, you probably don’t need any other reason besides Julie Newmar to watch this one, but the other thing that stuck with me is the Ultra Witch’s deadly weapon. She has a blaster called the Ronald Raygun that removes the third dimension from anything and leaves its target black and white. (Pause to make sure y’all caught that.) She uses it to turn the Monster Squad into full-size monochrome photographs, kind of like the flattening ray that Dr. Cassandra used in Stanley Ralph Ross’s final episode of Batman. This freaked me out as a kid. I don’t believe I ran from the room screaming or anything, but I was really, really worried about my heroes. Fast forward to today, and our son was, briefly, really worried as well, his security blanket crushed into a ball in front of his face. That’s never a good sign. He assured us at the end he was certain everything would be fine, though.

There are lots of other things to note about this one. The puns are impressively terrible, and the other guests include Richard Bakalyan, who had appeared in Batman as four different characters, Joe E. “Joey” Tata, who had appeared in Batman as three different characters, and Johnny Brown, best known for his recurring role on Good Times, but who we saw last year in the first episode of Filmation’s The Ghost Busters. Brown plays Dandy Andy, a parody of Famous Amos. I am 99% certain that Famous Amos was only known in southern California in 1976, so I figure somebody in the production department really liked those cookies. I am also 99% certain that Famous Amos cookies were also better in 1976 than they are today.

Bottom line: I will be quite surprised if another episode turns out to be this entertaining. It’s genuinely funny, or at least agreeably goofy when it isn’t, has four notable guest actors, is guaranteed to alarm five year-olds, and it’s got Julie Newmar being sexy, silly, and unforgettable. What’s not to love?

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Ultraman 1.9 – Operation Lightning

There’s something very odd about this episode. The monster of the week is called Gabora, and everybody knows its name and that it eats uranium and that when it does, it emits huge amounts of radioactivity. It’s all presented as naturally as “those are swallows, and they will come back to Capistrano.” Has Gabora been regularly threatening the country for years or something?

Well, he won’t threaten it anymore. What appears to be an exoskeleton-like series of plates around Gabora’s head actually unfold like petals on a flower around a toothy monster face. If you don’t predict that Ultraman’s going to rip those petals right off, you haven’t been watching very many monster shows.

Also, they don’t go to the trouble of bringing in a little miniature helicopter if the monster’s not going to bat it out of the sky. There are a couple of pretty good explosions in this one, even if the whole experience is disappointingly predictable.

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