Friday, June 8, 2018

Battle Of The Planets E18: Mad New Ruler Of Spectra

"Who wants a horse-machine race?"
-Tiny Harper-
"They're not mechanical horses. They're galloping dynamite."
-Tiny Harper-

Star Wars (1977) arrived and set the tone for space opera and sci-fi adventure films for the next many decades. It was undeniably a craze and everyone and their brother were looking for ways to manifest the popularity of Star Wars and infuse it into their own productions. Of course today we have Star Wars and Marvel films like saturation bombing.

At the end of the 1970s Sandy Frank acquired rights to Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972-1974), which predated Star Wars, purchasing access to the series from Tatsunoko Productions and hastily applied a space theme to the Japanese hero series.

Suddenly, the team of young heroes were traversing space in search of the latest evil to quell from planet Spectra. The original series wasn't of the same mind at all, but rather a persistent team of young people assembled to protect Earth at all costs never traversing the stars at all.

For Battle Of The Planets 7-Zark-7 was born (along with 1-Rover-1 and sexy artificial intelligence Susan), a robotic accompaniment a la R2-D2, to pull in young viewers even though it eschewed the intent of the original Japanese TV series.

Nevertheless, Frank, the creators and writers slap-dashed some relatively haphazard American animation onto the series, appending an already perfect original, slashed some of the graphic violence and re-worked the stories accordingly with an expert voice cast. It was ingenious really particularly the all-star voice cast featuring Casey Kasem, Janet Waldo and more.

A year after Star Wars, the American Battle Of The Planets was a success with kids across America, maybe not to the degree of Star Wars, but enough that today it still retains its fans, like this writer. The original is beautiful, but it's a testament to Frank that he Americanized it to some degree of perfection.

Some have referred to Battle Of The Planets, or Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, as but a mere footnote in anime history, but it really was a much bigger deal that that and even saw a resurgence at the turn of the century with a new comic book line and new toys. In Japan, there are still diecast ships and books created in support of the Tatsunoko classic. A live action adaptation was even produced, albeit not a particularly good one. An animated film was conceived, but fell apart as well. These were real missed opportunities when you consider the quality and effort put into something like the live action Attack On Titan (2015) adaptation of the anime series, the latest Japanese sensation.

Frank's efforts to transform Battle Of The Planets, despite a few that seemed mildly disjointed, were met mostly with success. Episodes generally rang true in terms of character and action with the occasional head scratching that accompanies a young person's series, but viewed through more mature eyes.

But for Battle Of The Planets, like Star Wars, G-Force was often taking the adventure to the stars.

As for Battle Of The Planets, Episode 18, Mad Ruler Of Spectra, it's hard, high-flying space adventure is brought down to a more equestrian-styled earthbound tale, still, somewhere in space.

Visually the episode can be best remembered for the cyborg horses, which seems like a more fitting title for the entry (ahhh The Cyborg Horses).

Mad Ruler Of Spectra refers to the old scientist who created those wild, machine horses. He's abducted by Spectra to use his intellect. His creations are applied against Earth. He agrees to work with Spectra initially for the gift of supreme power for which he temporarily replaces Zoltar so that Spectra can get what it needs out of him. It's all in the business of villainy. Zoltar had nothing to worry about really despite his unintentionally funny objection to the move. The Luminous One quickly puts the nefarious Zoltar back in power. Smart to keep your evil minions in check though. G-Force must rescue the old scientist and save Earth yet again.

Not a terrific entry by any stretch. Not much in the way of emotional subtext happening in this one.

Still, the horse animation is impressive. Far from the home stretch of Battle Of The Planets, Mad Ruler Of Spectra receives a mild nod of approval by a horse's nose.

Science Ninja Team Gatchaman Title: Who Is Leader X?.
Up Next: The Sea Dragon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Stargate Universe S1 E15: Lost

"Nobody's gonna' save you. Nobody cares.
In the end all there is, is you. You alone."


Often this writer has taken to alternating between Stargate Universe (SGU; 2009-2011) and Space:1999 (1975-1977) for some reason when deep diving science fiction. It just works out that way. Efforts to explore both reveal two series that share a kind of thematic kinship. There are indeed aspects to the two series that resonate with science fiction fans who enjoy exploring the philosophical or the unknowns of space. Funny they both lasted just two seasons. Were they just a bit too reflective as properties?

There was always a sense that Stargate Universe felt like a bit of a spiritual brother or sister ship to Space:1999 more than Star Trek (1966-1969) or Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009) save for some of the visual touches and the delightful effects work to the latter.

SGU, S1, Ep13, Faith and gosh ironically, Space:1999, Year 1, Ep13, Collision Course both shared similar themes of faith and understanding whilst lost in the vast unknown of space.

By and large these similarities to Space:1999 resonate rather soundly throughout SGU.

1. Both series center on people of Earth lost in space.

2. Seeds of distrust, discontent can be sown throughout the denizens of these wayward explorers. Unlike the Robinson family on Lost In Space (1965-1968), with the exception of their stowaway Dr. Zachary Smith, these two series offer a good deal more conflict by the sheer volume of people lost in space.

3. These explorers aren't explorers at all. Not really. But rather these are intelligent people who are forced into making the best of it. All attempt to apply their skills and intellect to often unexpected events.

4. People are people. The people of Moonbase Alpha and Destiny also find time to make the best of their situation, entertain and enjoy the company of others when they aren't facing an existential crisis. Both series have their moments of leisure and make the experience of riding along with these passengers a joy. They also share moments where tempers indubitably flare.

5. Both series have difficulty with computer systems/technology and fully understanding how they work.

6. Both series utilize shuttle craft to explore nearby planets. Space:1999 enjoys The Eagle which launches from Moonbase Alpha while the Destiny also has a number of smaller shuttle craft for venturing away from home base. Additionally, the design work on these two series are easily among my favorites in all of science fiction.

7. And, as Stargate Universe, Season One, Episode 15, Lost would attest, both series find time to explore people lost in space while lost in understanding their very selves.

8. Both series yearn for home. This one is likely tied to our first bullet point. Both series wonder if, how and when they might return home to Earth. Whereby the officers aboard the USS Enterprise are on a mission, or the folks aboard Serenity in Firefly (2002) make the ship their home and while on the run. These people on Moonbase Alpha and Destiny are the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time and they are lost.

9. And somehow, finally, each has a female medical officer. Tamara Johansen manages to somehow channel a bit of Barbara Bain into her performance albeit with a bit more sex appeal.

These are some of the specific variables these two series share which likely separate them from other science fiction series.

And of course the people of Moonbase Alpha and Destiny encounter aliens, have strong, conflicted or commanding leaders, brilliant minds and doctors not unlike Star Trek, Farscape and many others.

Not since Space:1999, and perhaps LOST (2004-2010), has this writer enjoyed the journey of seeing men and women navigate their unexpected circumstances quite so much even if SGU isn't entirely severed from communicating with Earth. SGU remains fascinating and likely will remain so over time in the same fashion Space:1999 continues to challenge.

Lost continues the story established within SGU, S1, Ep14, Human. Matthew Scott, Eli Wallace, Chloe Armstrong and Ronald Greer are lost. The quartet was left behind by the Destiny which is set to FTL on a timer. And yes another, less than fascinating space spider crawls its way into the camera frame.

Fortunately Lost weaves its magic between characters and establishes not only that the quartet was physically lost and left behind, but that some of the residents of Destiny are equally struggling with a sense of identity and stability. Tamara Johansen, Second Lt. Vanessa James and even Dr. Nicholas Rush, following the events of Human, are struggling with personal matters. They are all grappling with matters that can loosen our grip, that can make us doubt ourselves and yes, ultimately feel lost.

This is the kind of human subtext that also populates both SGU and Space:1999 (this should be deemed similarity number 10.)

Ronald Greer is lost too, both cut off from Scott, Armstrong and Wallace as they gate around in search of the Destiny and as a man still wrestling with personal demons. Lost gives us a window to Greer, hinted to in Human, but explored more deeply here. Greer is an interesting and underrated secondary character that is given a bit more substance in Lost.

Dramatically Lost is a solid entry as the trio gate in search of the Destiny out of FTL. Meanwhile, Vanessa James and Rush are gating about looking for the others left behind in Human with a finite segment of time within which to operate. If unsuccessful Destiny moves out of the Milky Way and on to another galaxy.

Gating in the wrong direction Scott, Wallace and Armstrong return to the planet where the downed alien ship was spotlighted in SGU, S1, Ep10, Justice.

On that planet, Wallace retrieves information from the alien ship. Mapping is somehow decipherable, programmed previously by Chloe, which aided the aliens in determining where the Destiny was. With just minutes to spare the group gates back to the final gate location to make contact with the Destiny. Will the group make it or remain Lost in space forever?

Lost manages the Scott, Walker, Armstrong and Greer thread much more coherently and satisfying here than it did when it first began in Human. In Human the juxtaposition against Rush's emotional back story felt a bit mismatched tonally though it was setting things up her in Lost.

For Lost, the storyline works complete with the Ronald Greer backstory. It more successfully handles the ideas in play and it works far better visually.

Without giving anything away in the story, though if you're here you've likely seen this series already, Lost ends on a downbeat note and a more realistic conclusion than what might have been expected. Credit goes to Martin Gero (Starate Atlantis, Stargate SG-1) for his scripting touch, his second since SGU, S1, Ep7, Earth. Gero indeed grounds the characters back down to earth working in a number of ensemble story elements coupled with the kind of tension he lent to beloved entries for Stargate Atlantis (Grace Under Pressure is a fine one). Unfortunately Lost would be his final involvement with the Stargate franchise.

Gero infuses Lost with wonderfully subtle dramatic moments of the kind rare in science fiction. Whether it be an unexpected tenderness from Colonel Everett Young by a taken Tamara Johansen, or self-critical and disappointed Matthew Scott who elicits emotion through sheer body language, or finally a survivor like Ronald Greer. And when Greer sits on that bed in the episode's final moments where characters are clearly lost, one can't help but feel a welcomed relief by his return to Destiny where life feels a bit more secure---home away from home.

Lost captures all of the unnerving elements of men and women lost in space with the visual touch of director Rohn Schmidt. It captures the kind of science fiction that once made Space:1999 both epic and intimate. SGU may have a new coat of effects paint, but it explores the kinds of exploration that once made Moonbase Alpha a refuge, a bastion of fascination, the place you yearned to be as a kid. SGU has more in common with Space:1999 in more ways than it did its predecessors Stargate SG-1 or Stargate Atlantis. Though, funny thing, Lost squarely has the viewer experience more stargating than any episode to date. And perhaps therein lies some of the confusion toward embracing this series initially and that was inevitably sadly cancelled after just two seasons.

What a loss.

Writer: Martin Gero.
Director: Rohn Schmidt (The Shield).