Sunday, February 27, 2011

SciFiNow: Best & Worst Episodes Of Stargate SG-1

Is it me or do you miss this guy too? Okay, call it a man crush, but I loved Richard Dean Anderson as Jack O'Neill. He was a big part of why I loved Stargate SG-1. This image from Abyss is arguably one of his most memorable performance in the series. Of course, there were many...

It's time for a bit of fun with the latest SciFiNow Top 10 list.

Thinking about it, I began writing this blog as Stargate SG-1 the series was coming to an end. I viewed it in its entirety watching on DVD. That was the last science fiction program I had watched before beginning Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic. It was much easier to watch science fiction without having to write about it. I don't watch science fiction nearly as often as I'd like as a result of the writing, but I do enjoy the creative outlet.

I initially generated my own Sci-Fi Fanatic Ten Best before I decided to give that column a name dubbed the BIG 10. Here. Let's see how SciFiNow stacks up with my own list and your feelings on the series regarding the best and worst of Stargate SG-1.

This list is extracted from the SciFiNow Timewarp Collection.

The Worst:
1. Emancipation [Season One]
2. Citizen Joe [Season Eight]
3. Out Of Mind [Season Two]
4. Insiders [Season Ten]
5. Politics [Season One]
6. Urgo [Season Three]
7. Ascension [Season Five]
8. It's Good To Be King [Season Eight]
9. Ripple Effect [Season Nine]
10. Tangent [Season Four]

To contain things a bit, we'll work our comparisons within each specific season of the ten season run. Taking a look at the worst pick selections I couldn't agree more with the magazine's assessment of Emancipation, a truly preachy mess of a start to the series in Season One. It's defensible as the series was just getting off the ground, but it's a poorly written effort by Kathryn Powers who also penned the equally awkward Code Of Honor for Star Trek: The Next Generation Season One. She's done better.

I actually really enjoyed Citizen Joe with guest star Dan Castellaneta. It's a completely stand alone episode, but it's a joy to watch Castellaneta's performance even if it doesn't feel entirely like Stargate SG-1. You can't place it among the worst.

Out Of Mind may not be the best season-ender in the Stargate SG-1 series, but it's far from the worst. Season Two easily has other options from which to choose. One False Step is a good example.

Insiders is a solid entry focusing on the Baal character. This is not the worst moment of Season 10.

Politics is essentially a clips/filler episode and a bit of a bore at that. I can't argue against this selection. It deserves a placement among the worst. You'd be hard-pressed to locate something worse than Politics in Season One. Emancipation, of course, but that might edge out this one.

Urgo, guest-starring Director Peter DeLuise's father Dom DeLuise, the one and only classic comedian, simply isn't funny and drags. A perfect selection for the worst list unfortunately for Peter.

Ascension from Season Five is not particularly memorable, but I'm not sure it's a candidate for the worst list featuring good performances from Amanda Tapping and guest star Sean Patrick Flanery. You could make a case for others from the season. Unfortunately the honor for the worst should go to Wormhole X-treme! starring yet another DeLuise family member, brother Michael DeLuise. Sorry Peter. Truthfully I love much of Peter DeLuise's work. I know I sound like a DeLuise detractor here and that's really not the case.

It's Good To Be King really deserves a place outside of the worst list. It's better than that. In fact, SciFiNow has selected two entries from what I consider to be a very strong Season Eight on the whole. Citizen Joe and It's Good To Be King aren't that bad and I would suggest looking outside of Season Eight for other options.

Ripple Effect is a fine example of a reasonably solid Season Nine of Stargate SG-1 with its addition of Ben Browder (Farscape). It's hard to pick a bad episode from the season. Thematically the season is unified in its approach and story. It was solid overall.

Finally, Tangent isn't perfect, but it's an interesting idea and delivers a good episode with strong performances. The material is simple, but it's not thin. One could easily look elsewhere within Season Four for a candidate.

These lists are always subjective, but there are some episodes that are almost universally scorned or loved. Here is a look at the best of Stargate SG-1.

The Best:
1. 200 [Season Ten]
2. Talion [Season Ten]
3. Babylon [Season Nine]
4. The Torment Of Tantalus [Season One]
5. The Changeling [Season Six]
6. Abyss [Season Six]
7. Heroes [Season Seven]
8. Window Of Opportunity [Season Four]
9. Within The Serpent's Grasp [Season One]
10. There But For The Grace Of God [Season One]

I'm not sure 200 deserves a spot in the best, but in terms of sheer creativity it's a classic in that way.

Talion? Really.

Babylon is not the worst, but is hardly memorable in terms of classic status. As I mentioned earlier, Season Nine is strong and noteworthy for its uniform genius following the departure of Richard Dean Anderson. Still, Babylon isn't the best episode in that season. I preferred others including Beachhead and Camelot to name two.

Season One's The Torment Of Tantalus is certainly a fan favorite and it is a beautiful episode. I can't argue with its position here among the best. It is indeed a deserving entry and one that seems to grow stronger with time. An early appearance by future Stargate Atlantis regular alum Paul McGillion makes a brief cameo here long before landing the role of Carson Beckett for the spinoff.

The Teal'c-heavy The Changeling is good, but I would choose something other than that entry from Season Six. I think the Teal'c-heavy Redemption might be even better.

A much better Season Six choice for the best list is Abyss. This is a beautifully directed and classic episode. In fact, how I missed this one when I wrote my original list is something of a mystery. Abyss would easily supplant something from my own list. It is a great selection and a fan favorite. Here is a wonderful moment from the episode starring none other than Richard Dean Anderson. It's not the entire performance, but a nice example of his talent on display in Abyss.

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The Abyss pick is quickly followed by another masterpiece in Heroes. The events that unfold coupled with the superb direction and action of the two-parter are mind-blowing. It made my list and this is an easy recommendation for a best list. It is also a fan favorite.

Like The Torment Of Tantalus it's easy to understand why Window Of Opportunity is on this list. It is arguably one of the best episodes of Season Four. To underline my earlier point it was directed by Peter DeLuise. It is an impressive installment within the franchise. Call my natural affection for the Carter and O'Neill relationship (with potential) what you will. This shipper loves it. See my post on O'Neill and Carter for a bit of fun.
Within The Serpent's Grasp is easily acceptable as one of the best entries of Season One. Personally, I would look elsewhere for a Top 10 placement even though the choice is logical. At least this one makes sense.

There But For The Grace Of God is another sentimental favorite from the Stargate SG-1 early years. There's definitely a great deal of love represented here for Season One. I can't argue against the episode. It's a solid entry.

Ultimately, Stargate SG-1 is a tough series to place in a Top 10 bottle with over two hundred episodes to choose from, but there's plenty for fans to make cases for and against. Overall, what a solid science fiction series from start to finish for a host of reasons. It's a truly remarkable achievement. Indeed.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ergo Proxy Ep2: Confession

The serial experiment that is Ergo Proxy continues.

At the conclusion of Ergo Proxy, Episode 1, Awakening, it was determined there was more than one Proxy on the loose. Producer Akio Matsuda offered some insights on this noirishly goth series in the now defunct Anime Insider #35. As he informed, the images and storyline are "focused on psychological suspense, a nice slice of action, and an accompanying sense of wonder." The series opener certainly captured the atmosphere the creators were aiming to achieve. As for those nasty looking Proxy, "There are many, not just one- and their fighting styles are completely different." Matsuda indicates Ergo Proxy is filled in equal parts "physical" and "psychological" aswirl with "unanswered questions." This certainly offers additional information to aid our efforts into discovering more about AutoReivs, Romdo and the Proxy, as well as the many interesting characters that color this deceptively utopian city and those inhabitants outside its domed walls.

A narrated look to the future at the end of Episode 1, Awakening, offered this: "The Security Bureau is out of control. The silence of the Intelligence Bureau. The manipulation of Entourages. They're all connected to the monsters. The points are forming a line. That's when a truth no one knows about appears."

Here we are with Ergo Proxy, Episode 2, Confession (Confession Of A Fellow Citizen).

Ergo Proxy offers a presentation steeped in digital from the 2D and 3D digital animation of today's anime to the technically designed digital world within which the story thrives. For me, digital animation takes some getting used to. It's a bit like receiving a new prescription for a pair of glasses. It all feels a little different when you put those glasses on at first. When one is conditioned to enjoy the breathtaking pencil sketches of 2D hand drawn cel animation, the 2D digital work can seem a bit jolting in its pristine touch. It feels too pure, too clean, too refined, sometimes too simple in its level of detail. It feels cold and free of the warmth and detail of traditional anime. I'm not the greatest fan of its artifice. New isn't always better.

To be honest, and perhaps this is the geek in me, you know-the old school guy that simply won't let go, but I prefer the beauty of the hand drawn animation of Gatchaman or The Wings Of Honneamise. There is a richness and beauty and feeling to those images that have yet to be duplicated and mined by a computer. Getting accustomed to digital for the likes of Last Exile and now Ergo Proxy takes some time, but there's no use fighting it. Digital is the wave of the future and that future is now. Just as CGI has replaced the classic modelling effects of the best in science fiction television [Space:1999, Star Trek: TOS and Battlestar Galactica], digital animation has supplanted the loving detail transferred from hand and pencil to cel. There's no getting around it. Digital is here to stay and as much as I might love models, latex and hand drawn cel animation this is the new world order. Some science fiction television and to some degree anime has suffered as a result too. Having said all of that here is where I bloe my own theory out of the water. Somehow the slight feel of artificiality and the starkness of this reality seems to translate well for Ergo Proxy and works wonders for its digitized, cold, isolated world quite beautifully and quite fittingly. Further, a recent viewing of Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone blew me away. It was stunning in its level of detail despite the notable differences that I still argue remain between 2D hand drawn and 2D digital animation. More on those differences at a later date.

The story begins as Re-l works through a digital photo line-up with some frustration. Previously, Re-l was attacked by a monster in the introductory episode of Ergo Proxy and the photo line-up reveals nothing. Her Entourage and cameras offer no corroborating evidence of her story and no one seems to buy her story either. Strange given her profession as a criminal justice practitioner. Her anxiety rises as she calls the whole thing a "conspiracy." She points to the Security Bureau as erasing any evidence of the event.

Her interviewers patronize Re-l due to her relationship with the Regent of Romdo [her grandfather]. She is less than pleased with the proceedings. The interviewers indicate Vincent Long was found not far from her home unconscious. They indicate he may have feelings for Re-l and may have been her stalker. Exasperated over the suggestion, the interview is terminated.

Shots of the city reveal more digital, electronic billboards urging "Fellow Citizens" to consume more. This theme, coupled with the controls over the AutoReivs, certainly pays homage to the works of George Orwell, Philip K. Dick or even films like George Lucas' THX-1138 and others. Iggy and Re-l drive. Iggy informs Re-l her replacement home will be ready shortly. A home is needed following the destruction that ensued of her home at the end of Episode 1. Iggy indicates she will need a release from the doctor to return to the Intelligence Bureau.

The funny thing about the Iggy character is the level of trust we have for him. Trust is a factor int his relationship, which keeps the audience uneasy. It's not entirely there. Despite his likability he is an AutoReiv and we simply don't know how sincere or programatically free he is in his processing of decisions or of his loyalty to Re-l. The level of comfort regarding his character simply isn't there for us at this time. Given his ability to receive downloads from higher up will it ever be? It is a complex question. Iggy comforts Re-l.

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Re-l has been relieved of her duties by the Security Bureau. Re-l argues her case with the Intelligence Bureau. She turns to Iggy for his support regarding what was uncovered at the murder scene, but Iggy blankly turns to her unaware of the information. "What are you talking about?" His memory has been erased. Do you see the Iggy conundrum? How Re-l tolerates the accompaniment of such a partner is a question mark. Re-l will need a psychiatric evaluation from the Health and Welfare Bureau.

Re-l silently puts the pieces together regarding the Security Bureau, her unit's silence over the matter, Iggy's erased data files and that thing-the monster. "The points are forming a line."

An AutoReiv talks with Raul Creed, Director-General of the Security Council, inside the Security Bureau indicating all traces of the Proxy were eliminated from the scene of the crime. They will classify Re-l's statement regarding her encounter with the Proxy as a moment of "temporary insanity as a result of the stalker attack." They've done what is required. "The secret of the Proxy takes priority above all else." The AutoReiv calls it a "psychological war." He understands Re-l is the Regent's granddaughter, but mustn't interfere. The search continues for the Proxy.

Re-l meets with her physician, Daedalus Yumeno, head of the Proxy Research team. She realizes he, too, does not believe her and suspects the Security Bureau has indeed gotten to him as well. She is unaware he is very much apart of the Proxy project. He wishes to run a detailed brain scan. While Daedalus and his two AutoReivs exit the room, Re-l accesses the computer database on the console. She notes there is a specimen analysis on a Proxy in the database. This clearly becomes a red flag to Re-l concerning her doctor's role.

In the car, Re-l requests Iggy connect her to the Main Intelligence Bank and search on the word "Proxy." "CONNECTION TERMINATED." As much as I do like the Iggy character he is clearly compromised and indubitably a wild card in the Ergo Proxy series.

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Iggy switches on/off his remote access like a manic depressive off medicine has personality swings. He is at once her partner, confidante, database and connection to those around her, trusted or untrusted. He is going to play a part in this series of some significance or at least he should.

The visual appeal and scope of the series is impressive as noted in the previous sequence. It is visually stunning, vivid and vibrant in widescreen.

Elsewhere, Vincent performs a retina scan to retrieve his professional equipment. Unaware, he is being monitored by a Proxy from the shadows. The creature hangs upside down in a darkened corridor. It is CREEEPY!

Re-l stands before her grandfather, Donov- Romdo's Regent, apologizing that she has not responded to his calls. Her grandfather appears aged and connected to some life-sustaining equipment. Re-l doesn't mince words. She gets right to the heart of it in an interesting sequence that speaks to the level of complexity surrounding the government structure and protocols within Romdo through the overseeing Council.

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Re-l speaks directly to the surrounding stone statues. There are four. They are the Regent's Council of Entourages and his four proxies [substitutes or stand-ins] in his weakened condition. The four voices are Berkeley, Derrida, Husserl and Lacan. Collectively, they are referred to as the Council, the Collective or the Administrative Bureau.

Raul Creed see to his AutoReiv's dismissal from his office so that he may examine computer evidence of "two Proxies." He is legitimately stunned. "I don't believe it."

Now at her new place, it's good to see Re-l suspicious of Iggy's actions. Her disappointment is genuine in that Iggy is clearly monitored and controlled to an extent. She feels she is even being "guided" as the Regent sees fit.

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Re-l gives Iggy the slip. "Fellow Citizens: Do your part and make waste." At a shopping mall, Creed's wife is with her AutoReiv child and her newly adopted human child. Raul Creed arrives with his AutoReiv. Raul notes gunfire as Vincent runs from an attacking Proxy. The Proxy ravages everything in its path in this stunning sequence.

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Oddly, Creed cooly instructs his AutoReiv to have all "armed" AutoReivs deployed and sections of the mall sealed off while his wife and child are quickly struck down and murdered. Only his AutoReiv child, Pino, lives. The sequence definitely tips its cap to an action sequence in The Untouchables [1987] in its construction and execution complete with baby stroller in peril.

Later, she waits at home for her father to arrive, but is visited by two AutoReiv Control Division employees. During the chaos at the mall, Vincent's flight from the Proxy is a relatively thrilling moment in Ergo Proxy's second installment.

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The mall is left eviscerated with the slaughtered remains of Romdo's citizens. Forty-two people are killed. Creed is informed the "specimen" broke through the partition and is "at large."

As the episode closes, Re-l investigates her former home for evidence from her encounter with the Proxies away from the watchful eye of her partner Iggy and thus the Regent or Security Bureau.

Now, never discount information that seems trivial in a solid production. Ergo Proxy may be one such anime. The end of this fine second outing offers some additional new information. In Episode 1, Awakening, during her investigation, Re-l informs Vincent he should dispose of his necklace calling it nothing more than "things that smell of Mosk." Mosk is another domed city. Well, it turns out that necklace has a little more significance as Re-l determines here in another terrific ending sequence.

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"It was him." Is Vincent a subject of transformation? Why? What about Mosk? What of this relentless Proxy? What the hell is going on in Ergo Proxy's domed city of Romdo!? Where do the characters stand? It's all very ambiguous and the mystery deepens ending with a confession of a sort.

Confession (Confession Of A Fellow Citizen): B
Writer: Yusuke Asayama/ Dai Sato

Monday, February 21, 2011

Land Of The Lost S1 Ep2: The Sleestak God

Land Of The Lost was particularly noteworthy and special for establishing a real sense of place. Nearly every location shot in its pocket universe is so well designed and storyboarded the series created one of the most memorable worlds ever committed to television. Further, they did it on a shoestring.
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The continuing adventures of Marshal, Will and Holly pick right up where they left off. Writer David Gerrold returns for his second scripted installment and brings a bit of continuity to the proceedings with the return of a splinted Cha-Ka. Gerrold properly sets the tone in the series by really establishing a mythology and a sense of place right from the start. He would return later in Season One for three more scripts.
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Land Of The Lost, Season One, Episode 2, The Sleestak God really builds upon the universe first established in the opener. The images included really speak to some of those classic sites from the series often revisited.
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Apart from Cha-Ka's ongoing fascination with water, we are introduced to Allosaurus Big Alice, a Triceratops, the Sleestak temple and other dry ice-laden props and goodies. Honestly, how Cha-Ka knows "ota!" [fire], but appears intrigued by water seems a bit incongruous. After all, there does appear to be running water in this world for sustenance. Truthfully, I don't expect Land Of The Lost to get it right every time. It was hardly intended for ruthless dissection by the adult mind to be fair. But, Land Of The Lost establishes its own rules and its own special guidelines and is fairly consistent in playing within its framework. Moments like this have The One To Be Pitied wishing I was taking on something a little more challenging like Daniel Defoe's A Journal Of The Plague Year [1722].
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Land Of The Lost is a fully immersive experience because of the "bottom-up" storytelling established in the first two episodes by Gerrold. The adventure begins and sets the tone of the lost Marshall family as they are clearly making the best of a clearly very bad situation and wisely making that little cave their home away from home in the meantime.
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Siblings Will and Holly are sent on the daily water run and Will eludes to getting to the water hole via a shortcut. It's just like kids to find the quickest route in their neighborhood or surroundings to get home and these folks are getting to know their terrain well. The creators are also establishing this lost pocket world and its dangers very quickly, but it's never rushed.
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Will and Holly stumble upon our first real look at the lost city and Sleestak temple and their first run-in with Big Alice on their trek for water. Cha-Ka shadows the siblings. Cleverly adapting, Will and Holly communicate in code, via mirror and light refraction, to their father informing him they have found a lost city and are okay.
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The one flaw in the writing early on by Gerrold is making Will dumber than he appears. Given his age he should be a little sharper as tools go. Some of his retorts to Holly are just plain stupid. Holly deserves better intel, but he's a great big brother.

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So, walking in circles Holly continues to sound smarter than her elder brother. This may have contributed to my belief that girls were smarter than boys growing up, well, that, and a girl from my elementary school. Anyway, both surprise Cha-Ka who has been following them. Cha-Ka runs and Will gives chase smack dab into the loving arms of Spike, the resident, friendly, neighborhood Triceratops. The cheesy effects are amazingly believable. Even today I still enjoy what they were able to pull off once upon a time despite the horribly low budget.
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It's also worth noting that whoever mixed the audio track on these video to DVD transfers did a horrendous job as sound effects and music, including a moment in the initial theme song all slow down and speed back. That's unforgivable. You'll laugh out loud. It's audibly clear to the human ear and is simply unconscionable in this day and age.
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Will, Holly and Cha-Ka duck off behind a rock and evade the pursuing dinosaur. Will removes Cha-Ka's splint established in Episode 1, Cha-Ka.
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Will and Holly stumble upon some spray-painted writing on a rock, "BEWARE OF SLEESTAK." Who could have written those words in this crazy world? Of course, someday we'll find out more. Until then, suddenly, the bug-eyed Sleestaks swarm upon the kids with their scary hissing sound and abduct them. Cha-Ka runs off to find Rick Marshall to inform him of their abduction with his crazy Pakuni speak. Saturday morning adventure just got a whole lot more exciting with the arrival of one of the 1970s scariest creations. This was the stuff of nightmares for children the world over. NO BLOODY QUESTION ABOUT IT!

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Genuine Alien abduction!
Cha-Ka expresses with great fear and excitement that Will and Holly have been abducted. "Sareesa tacca! Sareesa tacca! Two sassa!" [translated as "Sleestaks! Sleestaks! Two children"- that's my take]. It's something to that effect, but see for yourself as Rick himself finally gets the hint that he needs to drop the conversation with monkey boy and move along from this first of many wildly frantic Cha-Ka pleas to come his way.

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The creepy accompanying score provides a good bit of mood to the series. The soundtrack is a wonderful accompaniment throughout the series, which is why it's so maddening to see the DVD producers paid little mind to getting it right. Truth be told, it doesn't appear much care was given to the video or audio mastering and was more or less a one shot deal at getting the series onto DVD with no budget. Adherence to a standard appears to have been a non-option.
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Will and Holly are ensnared in a net and hanging over a smoking pit where far below a great beast bellows a frightening, grumbling growl. It is none other than the Sleestak god. As a child the Sleestak god was more frightening than the dinosaurs. It was even more frightening than those horrifying Sleestaks. As kids we were scared of the Sleestaks to be sure, but here they were worshiping a faceless creature dubbed the Sleestak god. It had to be monstrous! It had to be uglier and worse than those green humanoid bugs if they were attempting to satiate its anger with the promise of human meat. Our youthful imagination ran wild over the potential that lived inside that smoking pit. We kept imagining a great beastly hand rising from the dry ice smoke below the net. But as Holly put it best, there was a "what's his name down there" and that was enough for us.
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Will finally proves to have some wit about him as a daring escape is made, but foiled by the nasty old Sleestaks.
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Against some extremely convincing mattes of this lost world and mysterious forgotten city, Rick Marshall and Cha-Ka band together complete with "torcha!," as Cha-Ka knows it, to ward off the incoming Sleestak and save the kids. Inside the creepy city's dark passageways and seemingly deep into the catacombs, Will and Holly are once again strung up netted and hanging over that pit of smoke in dire straits. Admittedly, quiet moments like this, in any great series, where the characters offer a bit of themselves, are the ones that lure us in with our affection for them.

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As Rick and Cha-Ka proceeded into the dark catacombs those bright, cheery, Captain Crunch-infested Saturday mornings quickly became a terrifying place. No amount of Franken-berry or Boo-Berry could lighten the mood from those few terrifying moments until you knew the Marshalls were safe in that cave once again.
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One thing is certain Sleestaks do not like fire or bright light, thus I'm not exactly sure why they were prowling about in the middle of the day abducting Will and Holly. Perhaps it is the heat and not the light, which makes them recoil. Fortunately, Sleestak, as frightening as they are, are hardly fleet of foot. As a kid, I remember thinking the Sleestaks were so freakishly scary it appeared the sheer touch by one of them might very well melt your skin. I was terrified. Part of me secretly hoped and prayed they would rear their ugly heads on Saturday mornings, while part of me hoped for the sweet serenity of dinosaurs. Sleestaks were just off the scare charts! But again, they weren't fast, otherwise why Rick didn't just grab them and throw them to their deaths into the great void of their own Sleestak god comes as a surprise now. Yes, those Sleestaks were so scary the sheer sight of them could have you paralyzed in fear. Yes, Rick we forgive you.
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I was completely digging this Cha-Ka cam!
The sound of a great, roaring beast envelopes the cavernous city underground as the Sleestaks close-in on Rick Marshall and Cha-Ka. The torcha is knocked into the pit and into the horror below. The room is alight with anger and bright orange red light. The diversion lasts long enough for a rescue as the Sleestaks flee and the kids are saved. All escape in a nick of time. Even Cha-Ka is safe, who, funny enough, sat happily playing with Marshall's Zippo lighter in the bowels of the cavern pre-escape unwittingly awaiting the Sleestak's return before being pulled along to safety by the Marshalls. I wonder if Rick has a Zippo from Japan Zippo Station. I doubt it.
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In the end, the siblings still haven't filled those water jugs, but efforts to gather water have never been more fun or scary. These were short adventures on Saturday mornings and thank the Sleestak god, because my heart couldn't take much more. It was another childhood adventure from the imagination of Gerrold and the Krofft brothers. They brought to life the insanely well-crafted world of Altrusia in exciting and amazingly informative 22 minute Land Of The Lost classics. Series have done far less in 50 minutes. Though the video quality is near video transfer, getting lost inside this old land's charms may be worth the fun.
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The Sleestak God: B+
Writer: David Gerrold
Director: Dennis Steinmetz