SF Obscure: The Visitor

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The Visitor was a 1997-1998 series starring John Corbett. If you don’t know the series, you probably know John Corbett from lots of dramas, particularly if you’re of a certain generation. (Northern Exposure, Sex in the City, My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The Visitor lasted one season for 13 episodes. ( I have seen it listed as two seasons-unsure of how it was broadcast.)

Anyway, John Corbett stars as Adam McAuthur, a WWI pilot who went missing in the Bermuda Triangle. It turns out he was abducted by aliens and returns 50 years later. Adam hasn’t ages and now possesses special powers. Anyhow, Adam has been returned to Earth as a part of a mission to save humanities future. It’s premise is similar to the 4400.

In the pilot, The Visitor is similar to 4400’s human drama themes. The Alien ship crashes and Adam is on the run. He’s helped by a single mom and her son whom become attached to him as he reintegrates to the modern world. Adam uses his special powers and tells us all about how aliens want humans to reach our full potential; love one another; we’re all connected etc etc.  (It reminded me of the 1982 series The Phoenix, with Judson Scott. Anyone else remember that?)

The next episodes become more focused on a larger mission for Adam to seek out special people who will influence history to some mysterious end. It’s still feel good, but with a wider focus. It morphs yet again as a parallel plot line of ramps up with Adam pursued by government agencies. This is full on X-Files copy with hidden conspiracies; nefarious secret groups meeting in hushed voices and casting long shadows in vaulted rooms; classified documents stumbled upon and dossiers tossed importantly across desks; and, of course, black helicopters.

I liked the individual episodes well enough but I did feel as if the series couldn’t decide what kind of show it wanted to be. Family drama SF light? Conspiracy action show? A bit of both? There was a really neat Halloween/ War of the Worlds episode. Even though I was reasonably entertained by the episodes, I understood why it was cancelled. I don’t think all series need a story arc- but I do feel, especially in SF, series need a distinctive style or focus. The Visitor didn’t quite get there for me.

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SF Obscure: The Tripods

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The Tripods TV series is a 1984-1985 YA SF series based on a series of books The Tripods by John Christopher. It ran for two seasons on the BBC. There are many changes from the books to the tv series though the basic concept remains the same.

The show begins in the future 2089. We see a pre-industrial version of England. Horse drawn carriages, family farms, etc. A young man in a suit is being congratulated by his friends and family for his “capping “ceremony. He takes off his hat to reveal his shaven head. Out of the sky comes a giant metal tripod, that lands in the lake and  pulls the young man up inside.

Apparently, the tripods are controlled by the Masters, an alien race that controls humanity through capping. When you turn 16 (14 in the books) you get a metal implant in your head-cap-that keeps you from independent thought. It gets rid of violence and greed and what not, but also free will. It also seems to dumb down society-hence the pre-industrial world. Humanity has largely forgotten technological progress. We later find out that many countries are now isolated to the point that no one travels outside their own country, learns another language, or even has the same currency. The caps create a xenophobia which prevents mixing with any ‘outsiders’ and this helps the aliens maintain control.

The focus is on two young men, Will and his friend Henry, who are almost at the age to be capped. Will is apprehensive about capping and what it does to people. They meet up with some of the uncapped/ those for whom capping didn’t work- who live as vagrants. One vagrant, Ozymandias, convinces them that they do have something to fear from being capped and need to escape. On their journey, they begin to figure out their idyllic world is based on mind control and they begin to resist it. There are also agents of the tripods, which chase the boys as Will, Henry, and a new friend  try to convince other young adults to join in and resist the Masters.

The books are a bit different-a prequel book explains the beginnings of the invasion and how the world came to be. The TV series ended without completing the book series due to budget issues.

On the whole, I found the premise intriguing. It does look dated…the clothes and dialogue are supposed to be pre-industrial but even then the episodes and dialogue can be a little stilted and slow. I don’t think a young adult would sit through it now especially with a diet of  faster paced shows.  It is interesting to watch if you want to round out your viewing of the cult classics- and the books hold up fairly well.

SF OBSCURE: BeastMaster

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BeastMaster the TV series ran from 1999-2002 for three seasons. It’s listed as an American/Canadian/Australian series. It was broadcast on Canadian TV initially and filmed mainly in Australia. I’m not clear who owns it. It was loosely based on the 1982 movie The Beastmaster . (Which also has some low budget sequels)

The series centers around Dar (David Goddard) who can talk to animals and protects them as well as saving villagers from various threats. His has a friend Tao (Jackson Rain) a healer whom he travels with. They are later joined by Arina (Marjean Holden) a warrior. Marjean Holden later played the medical doctor on the Babylon 5 spin-off series Crusade.

This is a sword and sorcery world. There are many scattered tribes, lots of lost cities and ruins, and of course, magic. Some of the episodes are action/adventure-with Dar and Tao taking on evil tribal leaders and saving villagers. Others focus on the nature aspect and Dar’s ability to communicate with animals. Later on we learn more about Dar’s past, legacy, prophecy…that kind of thing. There are lots and lots of sorcerers. Most of them are women with perfect make-up and fabulous hair who control some sort of natural object (birds, fire, etc.).

As much as it’s easy to tease it’s not a bad show. There is nothing particularly innovative in the sword and sorcery genre, but it delivers what most people expect of that kind of show. Dar and Tao grow on you; Arina is a cool warrior woman; and it’s general family fare. I started to really enjoy watching it. I can’t say I’d binge watch all three seasons, but it’s a cute show. It reminds me of Xena, Hercules, even Legend of the Seeker. I haven’t seen many shows of that type recently. I tried to watch a few episodes of The Shannara Chronicles, but the young adult hipster elves relationship problems tend to grate at me. I’m just too old for it.

SF/Fantasy July Hodgepodge

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Mary and the Magic Flower

I went to see Mary and the Magic Flower which is put out by Studio Ponoc, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi formerly of Ghibli. Studio Ghibli is world famous, and if it’s not on your radar it should be.

Spirited Away is probably one of the most famous Ghibli movies internationally and one of my favorites. It’s visually stunning, but I what I really like are the interesting characters and unique creature designs, providing something truly different. Another good one, especially for small children is My Neighbor Totoro. It revolves around two sisters and their father who move out into the country when their mother is ill and hospitalized. It’s a rather bleak premise, but those themes are handled well and they meet a creature known as the Totoro. Check it out.

So, anyway, Mary and the Magic Flower is based on the book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. Mary is a young girl who goes to stay with her grandmother. She meets a mysterious young man and his pet cats and stumbles upon a magic flower. Without giving too much away, the flower does give her magic abilities-with limits-and she discovers a magic school. Fear not, it doesn’t fall into the magic school trope and I won’t tell you the ending. It does not go in the direction you think it will, it’s actually all kind of weird, and that was too its benefit.

I felt it was a decent film. It didn’t blow me away, but it was entertaining family fare. It started a bit slow; younger viewers got fidgety in the first half hour, but it picks up speed. It definitely has the Ghibli influence and the animation is BEAUTIFUL. The problem is it is a bit too much like Ghibli so I found myself feeling like just watching Spirited Away or Princess Momonoke again. I felt like the new studio is going to have to work harder to really distinguish itself as different from Ghibli.

****In other news, apparently its the 30th anniversary of Star Cops. I did a post about Star Cops some time ago. A Chris Boucher project that focuses on a police unit (or starting one) set on the International Space Station. It didn’t last long or catch on with the audience, unfortunately, but it now somewhat of a cult classic. The expensive DVD set is available as well as a book by Boucher which covers the first few episodes as he conceived them.

A very good podcast Time Vault-The Podcast of British Cult Classics (https://thetimevault.wordpress.com/) covers it all very well.

****And speaking of crime in space, I recently read SIX WAKES by Mur Lafferty. A group of clones in space wake up to discover themselves murdered. Who? Why? Read it. I really enjoyed it. Amazon.

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****And Andy Weir, author of The Martian has a new book out in November, ARTEMIS, which is apparently about crime on Mars. Space crime is everywhere.

SF/Horror Obscure: Beasts

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This series is awesome. And its more horror than SF, but it’s speculative.

I needed to recover from TekWar, so I decided to watch Beasts. I’d seen one episode a while ago, and was meaning to sit down and watch all six so here was my chance.

Beasts is a short run anthology horror show by Nigel Kneale, the creator of Qatermass.

(If you don’t know Qatermass it was one of the first serious SF TV serials and inspired Doctor Who among other things.) Nigel Kneale has a long and distinguished career in SF and horror.

Beasts originally ran in 1976 on ITV, as six episodes (50min). They are connected by a loose them of strange creatures and horrific circumstances, but the real power lies in the often unsympathetic but completely compelling characters. There are many recognizable actors in the series including Martin Shaw (Inspector George Gently!!!) and Micheal Kitchen (Inspector Foyle!!). I’m a huge fan of British TV mysteries-I’ve watched more of Midsomer Murders than is healthy.

One of my favorite episodes, Special Offer, stars an awkward, plump shop assistant who may or may not be responsible for calling up a poltergeist in the form of the shop’s mascot. Cans fall from shelves, packages of food are torn open and eaten, and items are knocked over with increasing frequency and violence. The worst part, however, is the store manager. He’s a handsome ambitious young man who comes across as smiling and friendly to the customers. He changes completely around the plump shop assistant-berating her, making fun of her weight and her looks. He shows his true self bit by bit as we watch his underhanded schemes and casual cruelty. Yet, as hard as it is to watch, the actress, Pauline Quirke, plays her part of the put upon shop assistant so brilliantly that you can see every bit of her pain, her humiliation, yet her possible power. She’s fantastic.

What Big Eyes has the same effect-taking a run down pet shop, an animal cruelty inspector, a discredited scientist and his daughter. The daughter believes her father to be a genius and a great man, even as he tells the inspector that he thinks her slow and largely useless. Like the shop girl in the earlier skit, we see a compelling, powerful portrayal of a woman who is put upon and victimized, yet it does not turn out as you’d suspect.

Beasts is…creepy, disturbing, hard to watch, yet almost impossible not to. The sets are small and simple, very much like a stage play, and the acting is effective.

SF Obscure: TekWar

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Tek War is based on William Shatner’s TekWar books, ghostwritten by Ron Goulart. There are about nine books in the series. The show started as a series of two-hour TV movies and then a proper second season, from what I can figure out. Open to corrections.

It’s set in the year 2045. A cop, Jake Cardigan, is framed for drug dealing; he’s put in cryo sleep, and then released some years later. Jake goes to work for the private sector for a security firm called Cosmos run by Walter Bascom, ie. William Shatner who, well, is William Shatner no matter what you put him in. Anyhow, apparently the company had Jake released early- he plans to clear his name, reunite with his family, etc. etc. that kind of thing. There is all sort of futuristic crime stuff going on mainly involving sexy holograms and weird new drugs. There’s Jake’s cop buddy Sid, and an android woman.

I pride myself in trying to watch any SF series, regardless of quality, to find the fun point or the gem. I tried my best with TekWar but I could not make it through an entire episode. I tended to give up about 20 minutes in. For many reasons. Silly plots, bad acting, awkward dialogue. I can forgive the budget effects and music; but it just didn’t seem to offer anything new I hadn’t seen before on many B grade shows and movies.

I know there are people who love TekWar and it lasted two seasons, albeit in a much more forgiving television landscape. I don’t want to criticize it too much, but I just couldn’t quite get interested.

 

 

SF Obscure: 1990

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This is a series I’d heard about in rumors, but hadn’t had a chance to see. It was released on DVD in March and came highly recommended. (However, it’s a UK release only as far as I know so borrow or buy a multi-system player) Series 1 and 2 are available.

1990, made in 1977, posits a future Britain run by the Public Control Department (PCD)- an all powerful bureaucracy in which government regulations turn into social control.  A few lone journalists walk a fine line between criticizing the government and being shut down.

It starts with an attempt at a military overthrow in the mid 1980’s in which the state took over.   Emigration, not immigration, is Britain’s biggest problem as those with skilled jobs and higher education seek a life abroad. As such, the PCD makes it extremely difficult to get a travel visa, so an underground system emerges to smuggle people out of Britain. There are also strict labor union codes which basically lock people into jobs; county estates are turned into ‘reeducation centers’ for those who are unemployed or the government thinks needs ‘reforming’; a whole series of codes governing arts, education, journalism, and what language is deemed appropriate.

There is a rather large cast of characters-but I found it to be more of a topical show than an character based show. There is continuing subplot involving spies in the PCD and the PCD infiltrating other organizations. ( A resistance cell?) Some of the discussions can be confusing if you don’t know much about the British political system. It’s a unique show in that it posits a slow slide to dictatorship rather than ‘one evil leader’ and raises uncomfortable questions about limits on speech and personal freedoms worth thinking about in today’s world.  The PCD’s belief that it’s ‘helping’ people when their actions show otherwise makes you question those who think they know ‘what’s good for you’.

1990 is a thinking show…if you want shooting and riots  this is not for you. I found it fascinating. I’m saving my pennies for Series 2. There are also novelizations of the series. Highly recommended.

SF Obscure: Night Man

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What do you get when you cross light jazz, Taylor Dayne, and questionable costume choices? And then you throw in special guest appearances by Jerry Springer and Donald Trump? Why you get Night Man, a show that surprisingly stayed on air for two seasons.

Night Man(1997-1999) is the story of Johnny Domino, a professional saxophonist, who is struck by lightning and earns a telepathic ability to see evil. It’s loosely based on an original comic. He also teams up with some scientists on the run who provide him with a special suit that allows him to deflect bullets and fly. It actually took a few episodes to figure out exactly what the suit does vs. Johnny Domino’s own ability- and I have the sneaking suspicion it was not entirely developed well by the writers.

Anyhow, most of the Night Man episodes are standard fare-evil bankers, evil corporations, evil scientists etc. It is an action adventure series, though a few episodes are definitely played for humor. And other episodes come across as humorous just because they are kind of silly. Johnny Domino’s father, Frank Domino,  is an ex-cop featured in Season 1 who is probably the best character if only because he does have personality. Whereas the show tries to have a common crime fighting them at the beginning, it starts to unravel a bit as the show goes on. We get a hodgepodge of alien invaders. alien villains, aliens, cursed Chinese ghost soldiers, witchcraft, evil sorceresses, and even a crossover episode with Manimal.

Matt McColm plays Johnny Domino, and he is a professional stuntman who had appeared in quite a few SF films and movies including The Matrix trilogy and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  He had a best friend named Raleigh Jordan, whose character is so replaceable they changed the actor between seasons 1 and 2. The owner of the club where Johnny performs is played by Felecia M. Bell, best known as Jennifer Sisko from Deep Space Nine. Actually, the fun of the show is watching all the guest spots by actors you see around here and there. (Tucker Smallwood, Daniel Dae Kim).

It’s…budget tv. There was a time when the only qualification for a show was to fill up the allotted minutes and get a few sponsors.

Happy Holidays!

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I want to wish everyone out there a happy holiday season. I want to thank you for reading the blog and for all the great comments. I hope you get to spend some time with family and friends, that you all stay safe and well, and that you have a little cheer. As for me, I’ll probably watch some SF and read some books in addition to the usually holiday joys.

Merry Christmas!

SF Obscure: Cleopatra 2525

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Hi out there!

Winter approaches…and so does holiday movie season.  Rogue One! Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them! Heck, maybe I’ll even go out and watch Dr. Strange. I finally got to see Star Trek Beyond and really enjoyed it. I think it’s the most traditional Trek of the reboot movies. Karl Urban really, really does an excellent job as McCoy. And it was nice to add a tribute to both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.

So for this week’s post I decided to cover the half hour, SF/action show CLEOPATRA 2525.

The year is, uh, 2525. Humanity has been driven underground because the surface is controlled by giant floating robot armchairs (That’s what it looks like anyway) called Baileys.  Two fighters Hel(Gina Torres) and Sarge (Victoria Pratt) are resistance fighters who battle the robot overlords. helped by a mysterious voice called ‘Voice’ that taps into Hel’s brain. Anyway, Sarge gets hurt and needs a kidney so they go and get one at the local buy-a-body-part depot. Thus, the meet Cleo (Jennifer Sky), a women cryo-frozen in 2001 when her breast augmentation surgery went awry and she was stored until humanity had the tools to save her life. I am not making this up.

There’s a sexy, android guy who shows off his abs and makes stuff and Sarge is all hot and bothered for him. Hel, Sarge, and Cleo fight for humanity by hanging out in bars with cyborgs a lot. Occasionally, the go to the surface and fight some more Bailey’s. Cleo chips in with 90’s movie references. A  psycho telepath shows up to cramp their style. There is a more involved plot involving a guy named Creegan and the origin of the Bailey’s but this is not a complex show so don’t expect too much on that front.
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Despite all this, I like Cleopatra 2525 mainly because it never takes itself too seriously. It knows exactly what it is…30 minutes of futuristic looking entertainment. The in jokes actually make you chuckle; the costumes have be seen to be believed; and there is a sense of fun about it. The main characters Hel, Sarge, and Cleo are likeable. At the very least, you look at Gina Torres and Victoria Pratt and think, ‘hey, I need to spend more time at the gym.’  And even though it’s often a silly show, I kept watching episode after episode. Maybe part of me wished I could run around with weapons and sexy male bimbo androids fighting aliens. At least, it would be fun for a week or so.