Friday, May 11, 2012

Space:1999 Y1 Ep11: The Last Sunset

Novelist Isaac Asimov once criticized the show for its unscientific content. Gerry Anderson responded in the biography, What Made Thunderbirds Go!, with a fairly sharp and fair response. "It was science fiction not science prediction. Nor was it the Open University. I was always very careful that whatever we put on the screen should be believable. There's a big difference between something being believable and something being scientifically accurate. It was my imagination put into 3-D for the purpose of entertaining people."

Yes, fanatics, it's FAB FRIDAY! It's a stumble and a plunge into the darkness of the colorful world of all things Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.

It's been a considerable hiatus for me with regard to bringing Space:1999 back into the FAB FRIDAY fold. I'm not sure why really, but it has been some time. Perhaps it's that innate desire to do the series justice and some unexpected fear of failure in delivering the goods.

Apart from a quick preview of the new Space:1999 Year One Blu-Ray with a repaint of Force Of Life, this is our first new entry to analyze the show in its newly remastered high definition format. Folks, it should come as no surprise that the series looks fantastic remastered. Compare the original Force Of Life entry to the new one above to witness the contrast. I even noticed a string on the alien limpet attachment to the Eagle in the opening. That attachment is reminiscent of the alien parasite that attached itself to a flight craft in UFO, Episode 6, Conflict. Regardless, Space:1999 Year One looks simply amazing.

We launch into the surprisingly sunny discovery, visually-speaking, of the latest in Space:1999, Year One, Episode 11, The Last Sunset.

The Alphans approach Ariel a gorgeous blue and a true sight to behold in high definition. Like those Star Trek: The Original Series masters you almost want to jump through the screen for a visit.

True to the roots of Space:1999's mission to explore out of necessity and understand the great unknown aboard their makeshift sky vessel that is Moonbase Alpha on the roving moon, Commander John Koenig makes the command decision to bring the alien device inside the Moonbase for observation and study. It's a bit of a risk to be sure, but what isn't a risk in the Alphans newfound predicament out there in the vast unknowns of space?

Without warning the device, a magnificent creation of design, begins spitting and emitting a stream of gas out several ports that begins infiltrating the technical area. Evacuation is ordered. The expansion of the gas is almost immediate and with great power as windows and doors are blown open before airlocks have a chance to release. The device wreaks havoc on Moonbase Alpha.

Its properties are initially shocking and seemingly devastating, but Professor Victor Bergman determines the device, which has somehow summoned countless others to the moon, has penetrated the area with "air."

A gorgeous orange sun rises. Blue skies are abound. An atmosphere is born. How can this be? The inexplicable journey continues and the Alphans are captivated by their unexpected good fortune. Can you imagine after days of darkness, essential imprisonment within Moonbase and endless uncertainty beholding the mere sight of something that likens your reality to mother Earth? It would be a true revelation giving one new perspective or appreciation of the life you once had.

With their imperative complete, the alien devices depart the moon. Dr. Helena Russell is optimistic that this roving satellite may now be habitable. Elation over the possibilities seems to have supplanted the immediate desire for scientific understanding of why, because smiles are abound.

Bergman and Koenig are overjoyed with little concern regarding the how and why this could be, which seems a little surprising, but perhaps, given all the Alphans have endured, a little hope is the antidote required for difficult days.

Paul Morrow and Sandra Benes head out in space suits to test the atmosphere. Before long the Alphans are living large playing tennis, sun bathing and drinking merrily as the moon is converted into a kind of country club. It's Club Moonbase.

Speaking of perspective, even Paul sees things in a new light as he and Sandra are given a strong character moment, one of those standouts from the series. Barbara Bain, Martin Landau and Barry Morse all declared Black Sun their favorite episode. Prentis Hancock who plays Morrow sees The Last Sunset as his personal highlight, according to Fanderson, and watching the episode it's easy to see why.

There's a sense of relief about their current status. Living on the edge has clearly not allowed the Alphans much time for reflection, recreation, joy or human contact. It's been about survival and The Last Sunset considers the idea of home away from home if such a thing could be established for these wayward travellers. The Alphans have been forced to set aside the human component, keep emotions in check. Here they let go and the episode ponders the consequences of letting go in a place we can't understand.

Unexpectedly, the rain falls as the device changes the weather configuration. The Alphans respond laughing, dancing and swinging through the rain. They revel in their liberating surroundings. Can you imagine feeling the sensation of rain against your face after weeks and weeks in confined space? The Last Sunset posits the idea that we take for granted the wonderful, but underappreciated simplicities of our life-sustaining resources. Overcome by the falling rain the Alphans are in heaven and are transported miles away back to their Earth home in spirit as a result of the experience. The episode never preaches but the message is clear.

No windows on Moonbase. Scenes were actually filmed with maintenance removing the windows and putting the windows back in place at the end, but those scenes never made the final cut. As the rain falls upon the moon Bergman is positively gleeful when considering the moon craters will fill and become lakes. In a sobering moment for an equally wistful Koenig, the commander comes back down to Earth, to use an expression, and becomes stone-faced over the sad fact that Moonbase Alpha is built inside one of those very craters. The commander is back.

Koenig sends off an exploratory team to analyze the moon's sustainability to the Alphans, sending off Russell, Benes, Morrow and pilot Alan Carter. The possibility of their Earth replacement seems plausible, but it's time to study the facts.

Computer can't breakthrough the static. And boy, the strings on those Eagles are exposed now more than ever in the establishing air shots. Hitting rough weather Eagle 28 crashes.

Computer operations officer David Kano [Watership Down] simply cannot reach the downed Eagle. Koenig dispatches himself with two Eagles on a rescue mission. Koenig, unlike most Captains in a position to delegate to away teams does not have that luxury. Moonbase Alpha is on its own with no establishing link to Earth or its original support systems. This is the logical reality of Moonbase Alpha.

Onboard Eagle 28 Benes is badly hurt with a concussion. The rest of the Eagle is severely damaged. As Benes rests Paul is clearly concerned for her well-being.

Eagle 28 is submerged in dirt and in a truly nifty moment to give the establishing shot inside the Eagle a real sense of weight and logic, Carter and Morrow open the Eagle doors for air and sand literally pours inside the Eagle. It's a real nice touch and exhibits an attention to detail as the dire circumstances of the downed crew are made very clear.

Carter and Morrow spot a patrolling Eagle and attempt to wave it down, but to no avail. Carter is indeed concerned about the visibility of their Eagle, which is almost entirely covered by sand.

On Moonbase, Bergman and Koenig realize their new orbit around the sun suggests conditions may grow progressively worse over time adding a new urgency to their search.

Carter and Morrow make efforts to create a ground marker while sustained winds churn up at considerable speeds generating a sandstorm. The group survives without food and little water.

Meanwhile, Kano informs Koenig five Eagles are grounded due to technical problems and Koenig reads him the riot act. It's not pretty. Koenig is feeling the pressure of the situation and is never afraid to rip one of his men a new hole if it means getting their very best. It's never personal. Bergman, ever the man of reason, cautions there is the possibility they may not be found. Koenig won't accept that possibility just yet.

As temperatures drop and tensions rise, Morrow points out the planet shifts between hot and cold extremes by day and night respectively recalling Lost In Space, Season One episode, The Hungry Sea. This age old tale of stranded survivors in fluctuating temps is always a reliable and sturdy one that never grows old for this genre fan.

Koenig lifts off, but armed with new information Bergman is unable to stop him and another Eagle crashes with Koenig aboard. Safe and returned to base Bergman indicates to Koenig something in the atmosphere is corrosive to the Eagle controls.

With all of the bad luck occurring to our fine Alphans, Koenig postulates concerns regarding the alien device housed inside Moonbase. "I don't know whether this is friend or foe, but let's get it out of here." Yes, good decision.

Benes begins to grow stronger and makes the relevant observation, "I thought we had found our home." It is becoming quite apparent to most that this is not going to be. Morrow notes Carter and Russell sleeping and takes more of the water rationing for Benes. It's an interesting bit of character revelation regarding the human condition of our beloved Paul when placed in such dire circumstances. He is easily vindicated when he makes an effort to find more water outside during the intense storm, despite a most illogical move. Still, these are desperate times. Outside, Paul comes across a food-like substance with collected water reservoirs.

After eating the alien food, Paul is filled with energy and dubs the Moon a new home. He points Carter and Russell to the mushroom-like fungi he has found. Russell points out they have no way of testing it, but Paul proudly declares he has eaten the food stuffs that are "growing like mushrooms." I half expected Paul to begin turning into one of those mushroom people from director Ishiro Honda's Matango [Attack Of The Mushroom People] [1963], but alas, fortunately for Paul, that was not to be.

Not unlike the crazed mushroom-eating survivors of that classic tale of shipwrecked survivors on a lost island, Russell plays the role of Akira Kubo warning Benes and Carter not to eat the mushrooms until testing can be performed. There's indeed a bit of an homage to that classic story here. Even Morrow's manic and abnormal nature suggests that allusion. Granted, historically, mushrooms of just about any kind have often suggested an hallucinogenic effect in film. But Morrow is clearly not right in the mind and even Benes is unnerved by his behavior. Morrow still relishes the moment and delivers a terrific performance. Things get particularly ugly as Carter realizes the shrooms are having a deleterious effect on Paul's behavior. Carter and Morrow, or more accurately their stunt doubles, get into a rather significant row with fists and feet. Just as Paul begins to strangle Russell an armada of those high tech devices seemingly descend from the heavens upon the Moon distracting Paul from his "destiny."

With a graphite compound protecting an Eagle from corrosion, an Eagle lifts off. Koenig fears the technologically-savvy device will ultimately doom Moonbase.

Weary and nearly wiped out from exhaustion and dehydration perhaps, Russell decides upon a very clever move and she spots an Eagle flying in the distance. She opens the gas tank valves inside the downed Eagle 28 and using a laser cannon fires upon them forcing the destruction of their vessel to get the attention of their would be rescuers. Her plan works and the kick back from the explosion knocks Russell unconscious. Koenig notes the atmosphere is thinning quickly. Carter and Russell are ushered back to the rescuing Eagle. Koenig proceeds to brawl with Morrow as he attempts rescue Benes.

Eventually successful, all are returned safely back to Moonbase where Bergman indicates the planet's mushroom-like plant is rich in vitamins, but also hallucinogens which may in fact be extracted. The Alphans have now harnessed a new food source for cultivation and growth.

The final moments are intriguing as the device departs the moon. It is clear the advanced race with their advanced technology capable of world-building and creating a life-sustaining, oxygen-rich planet like Earth has also been studying the Earth remotely. The creation of an acceptable atmosphere upon the moon was nothing more than a red herring to keep the Alphans and the unpredictability of human behavior away from Ariel. Upon close inspection of world history, can you really blame them?

As the device departs, the blue skies and white clouds fade to black and the sun sets. Yes, this is the last sunset, and for now their final taste of anything remotely close to life on Earth as the moon fades back to black into the dark unknowns of their new home inside the blackest abyss that is outer space.

The Last Sunset benefits from a reliable script by Christopher Penfold and more than capable visual direction by Charles Crichton. The duo makes for a strong partnership in the latest entry. It may not be entirely plausible from a perspective of science, but the Anderson effect makes it entirely believable entertainment.

The Last Sunset: B. Writer: Christopher Penfold. Director: Charles Crichton.

Additional commentary: This next segment of my Space:1999 coverage has always been apart of my look at the series from the very beginning. I first began referring to the book Exploring Space:1999 as a launch pad [no pun intended] for additional commentary, reflection and perhaps inspiration for additional ideas surrounding each episode in question. At the time, I didn't know author John Kenneth Muir. Unbeknownst to me he was reading along with my honest assessments of his own commentary from his book without my knowing. Fortunately, John is the kind of writer secure in his opinions of material that he is not in the least bit threatened by some one's counterpoint or difference of opinion and thus welcomed the exchange of thought. Regardless of the source material in any of my coverage here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic I always try to be respectful of the author and the source.

Having said all that, we turn our attention back to Exploring Space:1999 and Muir's thoughts on the series that sparked additional analysis of my own. His coverage of those episodes is always sound and well-reasoned in its own right, so if I disagree I always do my best to offer some basis for my own assessment.

Muir definitely saw The Last Sunset as overambitious and it's easy to see what he means with all of the back and forth movement between Moonbase and its denizens to and from home base. I will submit that The Last Sunset is very well paced and serves as a fairly nice remedy to those who may have seen some of the first ten episodes as being somewhat anemic. There were a few, but generally speaking, Space:1999 is about sound science fiction ideas and the potential for their discovery in a strange new world. If there are lapses in significant scientific logic I would point you back to the beginning of this article and Gerry Anderson's analysis of that point by Asimov as counterpoint.

A new edition to the Moonbase Alpha menu: Moonbase Mushroom Soup. Director Crichton and writer Penfold do a splendid job of generating a very Space:1999 specific vibe for some of these genre specific conventions of the crashed vessel, the idea of survival and the rescue. Think stories like Star Trek: The Original Series' Galileo 7 without the gargantuan monsters. Think UFO Sub-Smash! or, as I mentioned, The Hungry Sea for Lost In Space. There's a host of great ones. The Last Sunset is very good in its own right and fits squarely within those classics with its own Space:1999-specific approach.

While I was definitely intrigued by the disembodied voice of Ariel speaking to the Alphans at the end of the entry, Muir is spot on when he suggests there is "no real connection" made between Morrow, the Alphans' situation or the denizens of Ariel other than the fact the folks on Ariel just wanted to keep the Alphans far away from the planet.

The always incredibly sexy and underutilized Suzanne Roquette as Tanya Alexander, the would-be sex kitten of Space:1999. Muir wonders why the hallucinogenic mushrooms were there. Was it "chance," or a public service message against drugs? I felt that it was a reasonable assumption based upon the newly generated, life-sustaining atmosphere that the mushrooms were a natural result of nature taking its course in a new place. Perhaps some kind of spore germinated following the arrival of an ideal climate, warm temperatures, sun and rain in the way life springs back following volcanic eruption. Life returns and life springs eternal. So I felt it was more or less chance, but that does speak to Muir's earlier point that there does seem to be too much happening in such a short amount of time. In other words, was the hallucinating Morrow really necessary? I don't think so. The mushroom-laden subplot with drug-induced Morrow does seem a little out of sorts, which is why I did refer to Matango with a degree of humor about it. It was odd and perhaps over the top.

Muir correctly notes a strong showing in the command role by a female in Dr. Helena Russell and wonders if it isn't one of the first big command leads by a female in science fiction. That may be an astute point. Again, some wonderful moments abound from Bergman, in a limited role, speaking candidly with an angry Koenig and conferring with him on the reality of the lost Eagle. He tells him quite frankly what he doesn't want to hear, but what he needs to hear. Morrow has a standout part here, but Carter, Benes, Koenig, Bergman, Kano and even an appearance from the incredibly sexy Tanya Alexander, played by Suzanne Roquette, all have their moments. It's indeed character strong as ensembles go.

So long sun, hello windows. Muir also notes, as I did earlier [and I always write my entries before reading John's anlysis for fear of shading my own opinions or reflections], there are some splendid and "revealing conversations" between Benes and Morrow. These are indeed wonderful character moments and are really given dimension. The Last Sunset, in fact, is one of the first episodes to really put their relationship in perspective for viewers. As Muir notes, these scenes are "interesting and touching." It's certainly not the first time we've seen Space:1999 offer an emotional subtext. Despite being unfairly maligned for not being character-driven or moving in this manner Space:1999 has its moments. Indeed, Black Sun, Another Time, Another Place and I would argue Force Of Life have all been particularly moving throughout the first half of Year One. Muir also notes, "Star Trek so rarely made use of fine actors," referring to the series underutilization of excellent secondary actors. Space:1999 certainly does as much.

Muir notes that Carter establishes that there are twenty-seven [27] Moonbase Alpha Eagles functioning at the start of the entry to give us a sense of fleet size.

So, The Last Sunset may not be perfect, but it's a solid Year One entry and is easily comparable to the pensive nature of Black Sun. Penfold may not put the science in the fiction here, but he spins a pretty enticing yarn.


John Kenneth Muir said...


Great review of "The Last Sunset." I love reading your thoughts on Space:1999, whether or not we agree 100%.

Funny thing is, I wrote Exploring Space:1999 almost twenty years ago now. So while I love the book like I love a first child, I have also changed in some of my tastes and preferences.

Episodes such as "The Last Sunset," "Alpha Child" and "Troubled Spirit" have grown on me over the years. I stand behind my work, but I guess what I'm saying is that I'm EXTREMELY open to reading other viewpoints, because I know my thinking has not stayed the same over two decades.

This is one of those episodes that I find visually beautiful, and kind of romantic and hopeful in a way (until the last sunset, literally). I would have liked a little more certainty about the mushrooms and how they appeared, it's true. But I can't really disagree with Anderson's statement of principle.

I love reading your continuing coverage of the series, and appreciate your writing.


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

As always, thank you John for allowing me to draw from that wonderful book.

You have mentioned the date of your book before and I completely understand.

You should indeed be proud of the book. It's still wonderful and still holds up very well.

I know what you mean about changing tastes and how we look back at the things we write and through wisdom and through the acquistion of knowledge our feelings change, our thoughts change and how we wish to express those reflections change. They do for me, so I understand.

Still, the book is remarkably fun to read still. I enjoy it.

That's pretty obvious since I use it as a reference work here. Actually, I have another entry coming up to where I tapped into the JKM Reflections.

But I really like your point here about The LAst SUnset as beautiful, romantic and hopeful. It's all of that right up until the end especially when those aliens from Ariel go place the human mirror up and tell them that humanity is a bit troubled and well, we don't really want you coming here.

That's pretty sobering stuff.

Thanks John
take care

Anonymous said...

A very cool, insightful and informative piece on this unique episode of SPACE 1999. I haven't seen it in ... about forever. The look at it you offer here, much appreciated (and enjoyed).

The 'mushroom angle' is of particular interest, from various standpoints. The photograph you included showing them, worth its weight in gold.

(To my eye they resemble Lepista, a wild edible species called 'blewit' in Anglo tradition - without its typical purplish hues)

I was struck by your inquiring reflection on what that subplot's doing there in purely narrative perspective, intrinsic to the story. Contrasting with that, perhaps, is external or extrinsic aspect. A fascinating relation between this episode and its milieu, social/cultural context - per public awareness of hallucinogenic fungi and modern interest in them - as reflected in the arts and entertainment arena of television.

John Kenneth Muir will likely understand well, having kindly provided me some years ago with a VHS of ONE STEP BEYOND: THE SACRED MUSHROOM - an invaluable reference for study, as reflects in a 2006 book THE SACRED MUSHROOMS OF MEXICO. A chapter therein presents a discussion of that OSB episode, with a transcript.

Very interesting stuff, and a unique presentation about this episode, as ties in. Nice! A shout out to John Kenneth too, an invaluable resource and swell guy. Brian Akers

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Brian. They say you learn something new every day and of course I am further enlightened here by your commentary.

Thank you for stopping and offering these additional points of interest.

I really enjoyed this episode and definitely saw a connection to the appearance of these mushrooms in popular culture. I'll have to have a look at One Step Beyond.

Thank you for stopping Brian.

hugo said...

Another great review, thanks! I liked this ep, but I felt that the Ariel story and the marooned part didn't really flow together. And I agree about the shrooms.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hi Hugo
I know what you mean. It may feel a little disjointed. I know exactly what you mean. It's forgiveable. Cheers sff