Tuesday, May 21, 2019

David Nutter: On Millennium

"He (Chris Carter) had this pretty radical idea for a show that openly acknowledged that there was evil in this world---which was a dynamic that Thomas Harris had dealt with, both with his books and with his movies like Silence Of The Lambs and Red Dragon, but which nobody had ever had the balls to present on national television, in any fashion, before.
But what Chris did was take that idea a little bit further and temper it with the central focus of a somewhat long-in-the-tooth guy, played brilliantly by Lance Henriksen, whose agenda was to actively root out this evil and vanquish it while simultaneously trying to cultivate, within the safe confines of his home, a 'normal American family.'"

-David Nutter, SciFiNow #18, p.63-

Millennium concluded its television run on May 21st, 1999, twenty years ago this day. It seemed like a good opportunity to sneak in a little post regarding the series.

The Millennium (1996-1999) series worked brilliantly and this approach, given its ties to such source material as mentioned by Nutter, may explain why a series like Hannibal (2013-2015) worked so equally well as if carved from the very same stone because it was. Hannibal was indeed a kind of spiritual cousin to Millennium. Hannibal was perhaps the evolution of Millennium in terms of television. Both series were extraordinarily dark, but beautifully crafted as narratives and strikingly lensed series. There was a visual art to these series often absent from most crime shows on mainstream television.

Interestingly, for this writer, Hannibal was at its best for Season One. Season Two was a close second. Season Three, while still a gorgeously filmed palette in step with the previous two seasons, felt a tad rushed and likely much of what was planned for additional seasons was shoehorned into Season Three.

Likewise, Millennium lost some appeal for me after its first two seasons. Season Three was good and enjoyed its fair share of compelling entries, like Hannibal, but didn't quite match the narrative focus of its strong first two seasons for me personally.

Recently, Mindhunter (2017), created by Joe Penhall and produced and directed by director David Fincher, has been perhaps the strongest television entry to delve into these dark waters and the idea of the profiler/protagonist walking very closely, narrowly so, to that fine line between darkness and light that both Hannibal and Millennium achieved. Mindhunter is indeed the best entry in the genre since, though not as generous with its visual flourishes.

Touching darkness got me thinking about how time flies. It's been seven years since the publication of Back To Frank Black: A Return To Chris Carter's Millennium (2012) of which I was fortunate enough to contribute. The material in that book like the aforementioned series on which its based still stands strong as a subject matter with no signs of dating itself. The book as a whole is a real work of quality, a labor of love for fans of the series and any new fans who should be discovering it today. It's an exceptional companion for those who dare to dig deeper into its world.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Thunderbirds S1 E10: Martian Invasion

"This is International Rescue. Now I'm requesting you to stop and hand over the film of the rescue operation.
Now do as I ask, please!
If you don't hand over the film now I'm going to have to use more persuasive methods."

-Scott Tracy (voiced by Shame Rimmer)-

Yes, it's FAB FRIDAY! And the latest heavenly creation from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
Martian Invasion has little to do with actual real Martians or aliens. It's almost refreshing when you consider UFO (1970-1973) and Space:1999 (1975-1977) as Anderson productions. The Martians here are simply part of a science fiction film production. The film being produced features Martians attacking two police officers. With the set sabotaged by the sinister Hood two of the actors lives are jeopardized and International Rescue is called in to save the day.

Earlier The Hood reaches through to his brother, Kyrano, with a mind link and manipulates his brother, a man servant to the Tracy family on Tracy island, to disable the automatic camera detector within Thunderbird 1 to allow the evil Hood to further his quest to film International Rescue gear in action at the behest of a powerful employer.

Without question Thunderbirds, Series One, Episode 10, Martian Invasion proves yet again to be an endlessly entertaining kids' show loaded with fantastic equipment for the big kid inside all of us. If you're a kid at heart you just never tire of the model and effects work compliments of Derek Meddings and Brian Johncock.

Meddings to remind everyone offered significant modelling contributions to some of my personally favorite James Bond films in the Roger Moore years. Live And Let Die (1973), The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979) and For Your Eyes Only. All feature the late craftsman's handiwork. He even worked on the Pierce Brosnan incarnation of the 007 franchise with Goldeneye (1995). He worked on The Land That Time Forgot (1975), which also featured Shane Rimmer (the voice of Scott Tracy), and provided major contributions to Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) before he passed away in 1995.

Brian Johncock, here, later Brian Johnson, was THE man on Space:1999, and notably Alien (1979) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

Thunderbirds 1 and 2 are spotlighted here complemented by Pod 5 and the Excavator on display here to shine.

As always the special vehicles of Thunderbirds have their moments in the sun. To date we've enjoyed the Elevator Cars (S1 E1 Trapped In The Sky), Recovery Vehicles (S1 E2 Pit Of Peril), The Firefly (S1 E3 City Of Fire), the Transmitter Truck (S1 E4 Sun Probe), The Mole (in some of the aforementioned episodes), and now finally the Excavator, the most exciting pod vehicle since those aforementioned. The machine digs, grinds and essentially spits out the powdered by-product through its ass end rear pipes until it inevitably reaches the water where the two trapped men are minutes away from drowning. Always a thrill.

Now a few questions. How is it the brother, Kyrano, of one of the world's great villains manages to receive employ with International Rescue? After all the Tracy family is a staunch advocate to the absolute secrecy of their organization. They have money. Were background checks even performed? Is the diabolical Hood really that ingenious? I understand The Hood is a mystery and the Tracy family are nice people. Scott Tracy even pleads with the bad guy using the word "please." My how times have changed.

The remainder of the episode sees Scott and Virgil in their respective rescue vehicles working to reclaim and hunt down the film taken of their rescue mission. Can you imagine the nightmare these people would have in age of the modern handheld camera phones? Even if the automatic camera detector disabler wasn't working you would have difficulty trying to collect every device in the area to be sure.

In the end The Hood crashes and Scott Tracy simply assumes the film could never survive the crash. Is this really good practice by an elite, top secret group, crossing their proverbial 'T's and dotting their "I"s? I think not.

Still, Thunderbirds is infinitely entertaining and colorful. The magic of Supermarionation just pulls us in to their mesmerizing world as if even viewers are led by strings. That fab world is compliments of Gerry And Sylvia Anderson and it is on full display here for yet another fantastic FAB FRIDAY!

Writer: Alan Fennell.

Director: David Elliott.
Notable Thunderbirds: Thunderbird 1, Thunderbird 2, The Excavator, Hoverbike.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Land Of The Giants S1 E2: Ghost Town

"Even God would be lonely in a place like this."
-Betty Hamilton-

Not unlike the Hanna-Barbera production The Adventures Of Gulliver (1968-1969) for The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (1968-1970) or the comedic island adventures of Gilligan's Island (1964-1967), there is a charming adventure-like spirit to this Irwin Allen sci-fi production of Land Of The Giants (1968-1970).

The late 1960s was rife and bountiful with series loaded with imagination. UFO (1970-1973) was happening on the other side of the pond along with Thunderbirds (1965-1966) by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, but stateside Irwin Allen was making all sorts of waves on television with his Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1961) film eventually adapted for television (1964-1968), Lost In Space (1965-1968), The Time Tunnel (1966-1967) and finally the expensively prop-heavy production work of Land Of The Giants (1968-1970).

With Land Of The Giants, Season One, Episode 2, Ghost Town it was clear Allen and his creative forces (directors, writers and production design staff) had intentions to go out BIG!

Land Of The Giants was another example of ensemble science fiction adventure at its most ambitious if not finest.

The story idea was conceived by Anthony Wilson but penned first by Gilbert Ralston (ST:TOS, S2, E2, Who Mourns For Adonis?) and William Welch (Lost In Space).

Ralston expressed disappointment in the final product here with the series entry as "childish" in Starlog Magazine #159 (p.66). Veteran writer Welch would take the writing chores and essentially lay out the direction of Land Of The Giants and what the adventure series was essentially shooting for. Ralston's later assessment definitively captured the concerns of the series.

"They were interested in basic gimmicks. Star Trek, on the other hand, was an intellectual exercise run by sensitive and knowledgeable producers."

As much fun as Irwin Allen generated for his productions in many respects the action-based productions were very much a reflection and manifestation of the child-like creator's very detached and some would say insensitive drive for the bigger, better, extravagant production. Allen was far less concerned with the characters and their respective development than he was in the situational action adventure they might find themselves dropped.

Ghost Town sets straight that the crew of the Spindrift have landed on another planet. If The Crash (S1, E1) made any suggestion of an alternate Earth or some kind of atomizer or shrinking ray storm only to return to Earth, Ghost Town's giant caretakers of its model, hobby-sized town make it clear the giants are not of our world. They are actually pleased to see these pint sized little Earthlings populate their little toy town and intend to trap them there.

Ghost Town offers all of the fascinating little touches of big rocks, toy cars, model town structures and so on even if it lacks some of the production grandeur of Allen's opening volley. It's still a solid outing into the Land Of The Giants as we continue to root for our tiny crew of the Spindrift while not learning much in the way of character. The stories and action are driving this behemoth so far, thus plot-driven not character-driven adventure appears to be an establishing formula.

This is still fabulous 1970s adventure television of which there is nothing like today.

And where else will you get a full on screen child spanking in this politically correct and socially neutered day and age in which we live today where responsibility and consequence are becoming as extinct as the dinosaurs or an Irwin Allen production.

Ghost Town: B.
Writer: Gilbert Ralston/ William Welch/ Anthony Wilson.

Director: Nathan Juran (directed for all four of Allen's 1960s series).