Thursday, August 31, 2006

Just stuff...

Star Trek TOS is receiving the George Lucas treatment, as the series will re-issued on DVD with cleaned up CG special effects. These will be syndicated to TV, too. If that’s your bag, you may want to wait until the new shows are released on high def. On the other hand, purists (and collectors) may want to grab the original versions, in case those are written out of history ala Lucas.

Another veteran dies as Glenn Ford, star of Happy Birthday to Me (like all veteran Canadian actors--Bill Shatner, Leslie Nielsen, etc.--he appeared in a slasher film because a certain Canadian presence afforded producers Canadian government funding back then) passes away at the age of 90. RIP, sir.

Joseph Stephano, who wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock’s Psycho and also was the creator of the original TV show The Outer Limits, has also passed on. Both seasons of The Outer Limits are available on DVD, and at pretty cheap prices, too. Pick them up or put them on your Christmas list.

By the way, while it was an intelligent and generally well put together show, I just could never get into the new The Outer Limits. Pretty consistently, the endings of the stories were just incredibly dark. That might not have been a problem in itself, but the original OL was such a conversely optimistic and humanistic (in the good sense) program that this tact always seemed like a betrayal.

While I’m on that topic, one episode of the new show in particular drove me up the wall. It [Trial By Fire from the 2nd Season] featured an alien armada incursion approaching Earth, and the pressure on the newly sworn-in President of the United States to either launch an attack on it or not. (Pressure from saintly wife was for no, pressure from HOTHEADED MILITARY TYPES was yes.) The plot cheats were incredible, as the aliens kept doing suspicious things, like knocking out defense satellites, but always in ways that could, possibly, have just been accidents. The annoying thing was (again given the show’s general prevalence for dark endings) that it was obvious that no matter what the President decided, it would be the wrong answer. Since we’re talking Hollywood here, I predicted the wrong decision would be to fire the missiles, and of course I was right. Only two countries at last fire on them, us and the Soviets—that’s the show biz idea of being politically ‘evenhanded’—and at exactly that moment an alien communiqué is finally decoded and we learn that (surprise) the aliens are peaceful. However, despite stopping the missiles without harm, they still retaliate, and the President has several minutes to appreciate the fact that his actions have doomed Washington DC (Moscow gets the same treatment) and its population to complete obliteration. What a suckfest. Later, Cinefanfastique did their yearly series rundown for the show, and I was appalled that this insanely manipulative episode was given their highest rating, four stars. Apparently the author liked the ‘message’ about ‘MILITARY BAD.’ I don’t know, maybe if the episode pandered to my politics I would have liked it, too. I don’t think so, though.

Boy, does that The Covenant movie look like it sucks, or what?

This is most probably going to be the last week you can see Snakes on a Plane in a theater. What’ya waiting for?

A lot of formerly lost footage (alternate cuts, etc.) from John Carpenter’s original Halloween have shown up. Get ready for the upteenth Special Edition DVD for that movie, although at least this one will have some new stuff to show us.


At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Ericb said...

I never saw that OT episode but those aliens seem pretty vindictive. I mean, they did knock out the defense satellites, how did they expect the Humans to react? "Oh gee, hey, sorry we destroyed your defense satellites before we sent the message of peace. Oh well, it was our mistake but, well, you'll have to pay anyway. Nobody said interplanetary relations were fair."

At 11:58 AM, Blogger Marty McKee said...

Ken, now, c'mon, buddy, you don't really know the politics of that CINEMAFANTASTIQUE writer nor if he/she even has any, do you?

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Actually, his commentary talked about how trenchant the show's take on the supposed military mentality was. So it's not really a guess.

That aside, politics shouldn't even enter into it. The problem with the new OL's dark tone wasn't so much that it was dark, but it it was often outright nihilistic. That's what I mean when I say it was obvious the President was screwed either way. If he hadn't fired the missile, the 'twist' would have been that the aliens were hostile and that his pussyfooting around would have doomed us too.

In this episode, acting aggressively resulted in disaster on a global scale. In other shows, falling in love and taking a leap of faith (and subsequently being betrayed by aliens in human guise) resulted in...disaster on a global scale. I don't know. A downer ending now and then is good for the soul. But a preponderance of "you're dicked either way" endings I personally found less than enlightening, much less entertaining.

At 12:24 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

I'm still expressing myself poorly. When I write "politics" shouldn't matter", I meant I was appalled that any intelligent person could have found that episode of any merit. The plot mechanics of making the aliens probably but not quite surely menancing and such were so thoroughly naked, and the show's all too evident drive towards a patently obvious "He's wrong either way" climax, should have insulted any half-way intelligent viewer.

If Mark Altman's approval wasn't swayed by his politics (and his commentary indicated it was--he *really* loved this episode), than his championing of it is even more pathetic, and even weirder. Bad, manipulative scripting is bad manipulative scripting, and the show would have been equally awful if the pacifist side were made the butt of the episode rather than the military guys.

At 12:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The great thing about the old show was that it could have a downer ending but still have an optimistic moral, such was the case of the episode "A Feasability Study." That episode is also a good example of how the show differed fromn The Twilight Zone. If it had been a Twilight Zone episode the whole thing would have been about the mystery of where the town was and the end would would have been the "twist" "oh, they're on an alien world!" On the OT though we know this at the beginning of the episode and what follows is the story of how the characters react to the situation.

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Ericb said...

and I guess the real moral of "Trial By Fire" was ... that those aliens really need to work on their first contact procedures.

At 12:39 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

That's it exactly, Anon. I had a friend who really liked the now OL, and although it's is a supremely Nerdy thing to let bother you, the fact that the new show had such a different moral message than the old one really bothered (and bothers) me. I have to admit, a hopeful tone suits me better, and as you say, the old show could be dark and hopeful at the same time.

The new show... I don't know. Like I said, overall it seemed to say "Things are going to suck no matter what you do." Even the idea that this is somehow more 'mature' or 'realistic' strikes me as untrue.

At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to watch the new Outer Limits a lot (and plan to get the dvds some day). I don't know at what point but there were a decent collection of episodes where the ending could be described as "happy."
(forgive me for not knowing the episode titles)
The one with the man time traveling in order to stop a super-disease that almost wipes out mankind.

The episode where all that's left on earth are androids... until two of them create a man.

The episode where a criminal meets a guy in a diner and is given a 2nd chance.

The episode where a time traveler visits his ancestor to help ensure a nazi officer is convicted of his war crimes (watch that episode and try not to cry).

I could go on and I don't know if it was just the first few seasons that were all downers or if they were a mixed bag from the beginning but I will say that after watching it enough, I could usually predict a possible ending (or two) and then it was a case of trying to guess whether the show was going to end on a positive or negative note.
(now if you want to talk downers... did anyone see the episode with wil weaton?)

At 1:00 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Yeah, they weren't all downers, but man, when they went grim, they went grim. Their heart always seemed a lot more in the dark material.

It is also possible that I just happened to catch an odd assortment of really dark ones. So I can't say with any authority what the ratio was. I just know that it seemed like everyone I saw ended in mankind being wiped out or something. The Wheaten show was the only sequel episode the program ever did, and was itself a follow-up to a previously extraordinarily grim episode starring Robert Patrick (and that's the one where falling in love and showing someone else pity ends up destroying Mankind).

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

By the way, the narrated final 'moral' of the Wheaton episode is "The greatest horror of war is the fateful transformation of our children into heroes."

Which, frankly, is a gigantic load of horse manure.

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Ericb said...

Another thing the old OL had in its favor was the black and white, German Expressionist lighting and camera angles which, even with the all the silly rubber monsters, gave the show a touch of highbrow class. It still looks good and creepy even after all these years.

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Wheaten show was the only sequel episode the program ever did, and was itself a follow-up to a previously extraordinarily grim episode starring Robert Patrick (and that's the one where falling in love and showing someone else pity ends up destroying Mankind).[/quote]

Actually... I think there were two or three sequel episodes. (if i'm reading

And I do agree with you on the moral of that episode. Sometimes OL could get too pompous for its own good. (I mean, compare that 'moral' to the quote from Firefly: "I think every man that ever had a statue of himself was some kind of a son of a b**" (I know that's not the exact quote but that's the essence of it)

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

See, again, I shouldn't present myself as an expert on that the new OL.

I myself will also allow that Firefly suits my fancy, both as entertainment and as a political tract, more than OL.

I can't really blame Fox for cancelling Firefly (although they did themselves no favors by the way the handled the show). Buffy the Vampire Slayer was never a hit--except by WB and UPN standards--and that was a show about a pretty high school cheerleader who killed vampires. "Space Western" (and I mean, one that looks like an actual Western) just isn't a genre that will ever be likely to draw many viewers.

I do miss that show, though. Lordy.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Read the long synopsis. I think at least indicates how mechanical and contrived the whole thing is.

At 5:49 PM, Blogger Scott said...

"If Mark Altman's approval wasn't swayed by his politics (and his commentary indicated it was--he *really* loved this episode), than his championing of it is even more pathetic, and even weirder."

Ken, we are talking about the same Mark Altman that co-wrote and co-produced Uwe Boll's HOUSE OF THE DEAD. I don't think this guy's reviewing opinion will or should ever be given credence to anything again.

And I do agree about the new Outer Limits being a poor imitation of the original. Heavily cliched scripts that rely entirely too much on delivering a twist (or in some cases, a double twist) ending. I don't think I've ever seen an episode that I actually thought was good.

At least it's still better than that new Twilight Zone hosted by Forrest Whittaker. Serling has to be spinning in his grave over that one.

At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Eric45 said...

I agree that the new outer limits really seemed depressing at times. I remember one episode where a group of young soldiers were psychologically tortured to break them, eventually one agreed to disarm a bomb for the aliens or something, but she actually set it to self destruct. Noble self sacrificing happy ending? Nope, turns out it was all a psychological experiment on them by the evil military, and by setting the bomb to self destruct, it, you guessed it, blew up the earth. Sigh.

I did really like a early episode with Michael Dorn, about 3 astronauts returning from mars being infected with a replicating alien (A la the Thing). That actually had a grim ending, but noble at the same time.

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous KurtVon said...

Only episode I ever saw was the Will Wheaton one, and was put off not by it's bleak ending (well, a little) but by the total lack of internal consistency. They go on about how the aliens can disguise themselves as humans and they have to use retina scans (the aliens defeat this, it turns out, by grafting human eyes in place of their own). Later in the episode it turns out they bleed green, and show scales when the artifical skin tears. So humans use retina scans when a simple blood test or even just a minor cut would reveal the aliens? Bah!

At 8:42 AM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

The grim content was why I could never get into "Millenium." I know a lot of people loved that show, but for me, watching it at all was just an exercise. When you know everyone is doomed before the opening credits roll, what's the point?

"Firefly" I think could have been saved if it had a less stupid name. That's the dumbest name for a science fiction western possible. Simply listed among the TV offerings, it suggests a teen romance summer camp show. Given the fact that it's the class of the spaceship, it's like calling a cop show "Four-Door Sedan" and then wondering why it fails to find an audience.

At 7:08 AM, Anonymous Dan Coyle said...

While I consider myself a hardcore lefty, that specific Outer Limits episode was pretty terrible and predictable. I mean, the fact that they cast Robert Foxworth as The President pretty much sealed the deal- he's the red flag of "road to hell is paved with good intentions" plot twists.

The new show was often way too nihilistic- the episode told in reverse about Frank Whaley as a cyber terrorist ended with a city blowing up "for freedom"- huh? And then there was the "final" episode, which argued in favor for science and against puritianism and turning the clock back... and as the Supreme court ruled in favor of science... a time traveler set off a nuke.


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