Friday, April 16, 2010

Space:1999 Y1 Ep9: Force Of Life

The face of Force Of Life. Ian McShane is a force of his own and is the face of drama in this classic installment of Space:1999. His acting force begins here. His wonderful presence would be felt to come in Lovejoy, Deadwood and Kings to name just a few television classics.

FAB FRIDAY begins now! This is an in-depth look into all things wonderful inside the world of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson.

My first recollection of Force Of Life from my childhood is the vivid performance of Ian McShane. This is the first episode of Space:1999 to date that I recall with great clarity. His central role inside of a well-penned Johnny Byrne story was powerful and distinctive enough that images [compliments of the late Director David Tomblin] from this tale have forever remain part of who I am. Certainly, as a child, no one knew Ian McShane would become the brilliant actor he is today. McShane of course is the actor best known for his role as Al Swearengen in Deadwood [2004-2006], for which he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor. Across the pond, he is well-remembered in the UK for six seasons of Lovejoy [1986-1994; a five year gap between Series 1 and Series 2] as the lead character. He followed Deadwood with a series called Kings [2009] as Silas Benjamin. The show was axed almost immediately and, like Deadwood, is a dramatic stunner. I suppose I have spoken extensively enough about the man. Be sure to check out my entry on Babylon 5: The River Of Souls for more on McShane. Click here.

'Yeah, that's right, I'm gonna be a star.'
Having built Ian McShane up in my mind after all of these years I expect such great things from the man even from his earlier performances like the one found here on Space:1999. Since this was filmed in 1975 I suspect it is entirely unfair to have such bold expectations. Will he be every bit as good as I remember? Let us bear witness to those glimmers of brilliance that caught the attention of others over three and half decades ago. Space:1999 would be his first major TV guest appearance. My adoration and general worship of Ian McShane as a living god [with a small g] knows no bounds. One might half expect me to change the name of this blog to Musings Of An Ian McShane Fanatic if I didn't love science fiction that much more.

A shot exemplifying the highly cinematic look of the classic Space:1999.
I anticipate great things out of seeing this entry again, not only because it is Space:1999 with its typically terrific cast of Alphan actors, but bloody hell we have Actor Ian McShane coupled with Writer Johnny Byrne and Director David Tomblin. It's a slice of science fiction heaven people. The late, Irish writer Byrne serves up his second full story following Another Time, Another Place. The aforementioned entry arrived off the heels of co-scripted Matter Of Life And Death. It's important to note, this would be the second of three collaborations between Byrne and Tomblin. I suppose like anyone with high expectations, the question remains will I be disappointed after all these years? Without further ado we venture boldly into the great unknown that is Space:1999, Year One, Episode 9, Force Of Life. Alphan survival continues.

One of the many extraordinary and painstakingly beautiful space shots delivered for Space:1999.
Speaking of survival, some of the most interesting comments about Space:1999's premise came from the very mouth of Johnny Byrne in a tribute paid to the man by John Kenneth Muir. Space:1999 was essentially the anti-Star Trek. This is reflected and considered with terrific insight in an article written by John Kenneth Muir that can be found here. My favorite Space:1999 analysis from Byrne to Muir comes in these words:

"Critics don't understand the paradigm. They never did. It [Space:1999] isn't Star Trek. It is a modern day or near future origin story of a people. The Celts, the Aztecs and the Hebrews all have origin stories. But Space:1999 took place in a real time, not in pre-history. It was a futuristic rendering of that old story: of people cast out from their home with no plan, no direction and no control. There are elements of faith, magic and religion in the show, and nobody seems to understand or accept that. In Space:1999, we are witnessing the foundation of a culture. It didn't fall into the classic mold of science fiction, no question about it. I'm the first to know that. The very premise was dodgy, but you had to suspend disbelief in order to see the possibilities of it. All the professional science fiction writers - unfortunately - did not judge it for what it was. They judged it for what it wasn't. This was a cardinal error and for that reason, I didn't take the criticisms to heart. They were not judging what I had done; they were judging what they had hoped to see...and it wasn't there."

The Solarium. You'll find me there.
The quote offers some of the most succinct and articulate insight into Space:1999 ever spoken. Byrne accurately captures the mood and expectation of critics who unfairly faulted Space:1999 for something it was not. The full tribute to Byrne and his reflections to Muir can be found here.

The force of life is Moonbase Alpha and its inhabitants must find a way to hold onto one another despite themselves and the rearing of the ugly head that is sometimes very dark human nature. This combined with sometimes dark forces beyond their understanding often working against their survival. This is not a series for the close-minded. susceptible to misunderstanding or pre-conceived notions.

A blue orb of light hurtles toward the Moon. The effects shots of the Moon are impressive. Commander John Koenig and Professor Victor Bergman witness its arrival. Once again, Bergman comes up empty with answers, "It's a new one on me." Ah, Victor. You are a bright, all too human representative of us. In space, everything is a question for Bergman. God bless him. He is a real human being. He is one of the major factors I loved Space:1999, Year One. He attempts understanding, but is also open to accepting that which he cannot understand. His human reaction to the questions of the universe is why his character is so beloved by me. He is an intelligent man, but like any man of science and knowledge he has as many questions as he does answers. When he says he doesn't know he's never fearful of admitting so. He's not bashful in admitting ignorance. Who has all the answers? He doesn't know right along with us. Our Alphan conundrums are his Alphan conundrums. His responses are real and human. He has an appetite for understanding, but a spiritual embrace of a universe that remains a mystery to him and all of us.

One of a number of terrific set pieces for Space:1999. The Nuclear Generating Area.
Somewhere on Moonbase Alpha, we meet two new Alphan characters in Anton and Eva Zoref. Great names. I love the sense of isolation for the Alphans. The music, provided by Composer Barry Gray, always heightens the sense of dread or the eerie, isolating quiet of outer space. Gray is exclusive to Space:1999 Year One. Year Two would find music provided by Derek Wadsworth.

David Kano reports to Koenig that Computer has nothing to offer regarding the blue light. Once again, technology is not automatic for the human population of Moonbase Alpha. Koenig requests all section heads assemble. This may be the first time we've heard him make reference to the various section chiefs of Moonbase Alpha. Click here for details found at the bottom of the entry. Anton's work zone, the Nuclear Generating Area, is stunningly detailed. What a set! As the section heads assemble for Koenig including Bergman, Alan Carter, Dr. Helena Russell, the Alphans slow in motion to a full stop.

Everyone on Alpha has ceased moving except our dear Alphan Anton. Anton senses something, but disregards his instincts. The alien blue light has chosen its host. Technician Anton Zoref calls for help from within the Nuclear Generating Area notifying Main Mission of an emergency. His plea for help is met with ghostly silence. Awash in blue light Anton falls to the floor. The blue light disappears and motion and order is restored to Alpha. As a result, Koenig cannot recall what he and Russell were discussing just moments prior to the freeze. Interestingly, John Kenneth Muir cleverly points to the name Zoref as an anagram for froze. Zoref is a rearrangement of that word, a concept that permeates the Force Of Life installment. Paul Morrow receives a distress call from the Nuclear Generating Area and reaches out belatedly to Zoref. The camera twirls heightening the effect that Anton Zoref is out of sorts and no longer quite himself. Once again the world of Moonbase Alpha is under attack by forces beyond human comprehension. Zoref is undergoing a transformation, adapting to physical changes as a result of his newly acquired parasitic relationship with a faceless alien force, whereby this organism benefits at the unfortunate expense of its host Anton.

The images in those opening credits have burned inside my crystallized intelligence. There was something so inherently frightening about Space:1999. I sensed the creators intentions regarding the series even as a child. How come the critics could not? My mind, as Byrne suggested, was open to the possibilities before me. Who knew a young child would understand the limitless possibilities of space and its potentially dark forces better than a bell-bottomed pant-wearing critic? I knew what was out there was beyond my understanding and yet I was beguiled. Why weren't others with a fully developed mind? The series was far more sophisticated than my young mind could comprehend yet I embraced the essence of the series whenever it reached my television screen. Not all, but many critics simply applied a near Pavlovian critical response to Space:1999 reflective of the influence of Star Trek: The Original Series. Though I didn't fully recognize it, I viscerally understood the intrinsic differences between the two programs on an instinctive level and there was something incredibly spooky about Space:1999 that captured me forever.

Koenig and company respond to the Nuclear Generating Area as Anton regains consciousness. He is clearly ready to get back to work, but Russell will have none of it. Keonig wants the area fully reviewed by Bergman. Alpha depends on it. In the Medical Section, Anton is hooked up to a monitor and with a single power blink the monitor dies. Russell doesn't make the connection to Zoref and the malfunction is believed to be a mere technical aberration. Russell orders Anton to rest. Russell requests Mathias fix the blown monitor. Later Mathias would inform her the monitor is just fine, but that the energy cells were found to be drained.
Bergman reports instruments in the Generating Area record a "massive discharge of energy." Bergman insists there is no sign of any radiation leak. "Then what caused it?" asks Koenig. Bergman responds as only Bergman can, "Uhh, that's a good question." Koenig is like a Pit Bull. He knows something is not right in Alpha land. Russell insists Anton appears fine other than a mild case of shock. Koenig is less certain.
Gay is hot, but if I wasn't heterosexual Ian might rank too.
Back in Anton's quarters, he greets his adorably cute wife Eva as she exits the shower. She is delightfully portrayed by Gay Hamilton. Gay is hot like fictional UFO character Lt. Gay Ellis minus the purple-pink wig. Even Eva knows all is not well with her husband Anton.

Lighting is key to the atmosphere found in this David Tomblin directed entry.
Anton appears to be absorbing all signs of electrical life. He cannot help himself. Bergman presents his chart findings to Koenig. It's the standard Space:1999 heat signature graph or body scan, but it gets the message across. Bergman points to the energy mass at the exact moment Anton passed out in the Nuclear Generating Section. "Unless, it's something entirely new to Alpha," wonders Bergman. It doesn't make sense to Koenig since there are no energy sources of any kind close to Alpha. Bergman points to the logical, "there obviously is."
The shot juxtaposition of Anton Zoref in the foreground of the DANGER signs is sheer genius.
Anton, despite doctor's orders, swings by Nuclear Generating Area 3, his office, and chats with his colleague Mark Dominix. Alone again, a strange sound effect accompanies a close-up of Anton's face highlighting the terror that has overcome Zoref. He begins feeling strange again. He calls to Mark. Mark comes to his aid. Anton is freezing. Mark kindly gets him a cup of coffee. Anton quickly turns the cup of coffee into a frozen mass of joe and Mark's next. The cup shatters as it drops to the floor. "What's wrong with me?," a frightened Anton pleads. Mark finds out as he grabs the faint Anton only to find his own very life force extracted and absorbed by Anton. Mark is transformed into a frozen human popsicle and falls to the floor, but doesn't shatter like the normal cliched result. Anton runs from the Generating room. Mark's wristband alert activates.
It was at this point in the action I was 'forced to life' myself. I had to pack and exit to attend a gymnastics meet for my Girl Wonder. If you have kids you'll understand the difficulty of getting through a serial episode, nevermind an actual film, all in one sitting. While I adored every minute of her meet and watching her compete, in my moments of solitude and peace between events I wondered of the fate of Anton Zoref and was eager to return home in due course to find out.
In the Medical Section, Mathias and Russell are alerted by Computer that "Technician Mark Dominix Life Functions Terminated." Koenig learns of the death of Mark Dominix. "I don't understand." We never ufully nderstand the complexities of outer space and what new realities it will bring. Koenig suspects the answers lie within the Nuclear Generating Area.
Anton returns to the safety of his quarters. Eva queries what's troubling him.

Eva's deeply felt concern for her husband Anton pulls us further into Anton's world. These intimate moments create deep empathy for the character's plight and we connect to their pain and anxiety. Anton adapts and evolves in accord to the assimilating lifeform. As the changes occur and affect his behavior we become more deeply sympathetic to both Eva and Anton and their collapsing world. In the cold remoteness of space and the separation from humanity, having one another is their greatest strength. To witness the two lovers torn apart is truly painful and the acting, script and direction create an ultimately agonizing scenario. I hung on every moment and every word.

Not exactly complex data readouts.
Bergman reports to Koenig a comparison of graph charts. One chart highlights an electrical discharge when Zoref collapsed. The other chart is a discharge when Dominix life ceased. "This alien force is here right now somewhere on Alpha." You see, Victor knows how to assemble information to deduct the possibilities.
The personal touch of Director David Tomblin.
Outside the Medical Centre, Zoref begins to lose it again. His blank appearance suggesting a loss of humanity. A sexy Alphan happens upon him, but continues on looking back at Zoref with freakish concern. Poor Anton Zoref is clearly not himself. Zoref pursues the woman like the man possessed that he is. The camera work and direction by David Tomblin is the absolute best I've seen in the series to date. It is a superior piece of film work. He gives Byrne's haunting tale everything the frightening story needs. This is body horror of a supernatural kind. Something is clearly not right with Zoref and Tomblin allows viewers to experience what Zoref is experiencing. If anyone creates a genuine sense of alienation and a visual sense of alien infection, it's David Tomblin. The odd angles, the sweaty close-ups, red [warm] and blue [cold] lighting effects, the slow motion and blurred focus suggest many things. Fear is made real here. Viewers feel a sense of alien usurpation through the camera and McShane's performance. Ian McShane has always been a huge presence on camera and even when he doesn't say anything, his actions and appearance is menacing. The creators really take advantage of his talent here and couldn't have cast a more convincing actor for the character than McShane. He is at once sympathetic and conversely terrifying. While Force Of Life is clearly essential science fiction viewing, this is a MUST VIEW sequence. It is positively brilliant in its execution [no pun intended].

The David Tomblin effect. A classic.
When that elevator closes to the Travel Unit, Preston's last hope for survival closes with it. When her distress and peril is unnoticed by her fellow Alphans it is clear her life is lost. Perhaps it's true "in space no one can hear you scream" [the tagline to Alien in 1979]. As Zoref's hands reach into the camera you cannot help but feel the terror of the sequence as if he is pulling the very life out of the viewer. It is intimate. The life of Medical Orderly Hilary Preston is forced from her being. Mathias and Russell discover Preston's frozen corpse. The body count is growing and we have a severe pattern developing. Russell believes the alien force is "absorbing heat." The Alphan command team is beginning to catch on.
Eva Zoref passes two orderlies carting away a deceased Preston as concern overcomes her. She runs to Medical. She asks Russell for Anton and tells her he was suppose to be seeing Dr. Russell. Eva informs Russell something happened while he was with Dominix. Anton is sick. She too is worried sick about Anton.

Russell reports to Koenig. Something tells me CommLinks will be swapped for Stun Guns soon. Koenig requests information from Kano on Zoref's last entry into the Nuclear Generating Area. His last appearance there was when Dominix died. Koenig wants Zoref found.
A stunning shot for obvious reasons, but one you would rarely see on television. Sexy thigh action! Thank you again David Tomblin. You were a great man with a keen eye. GULP!
Anton Zoref enters the Solarium. The area is a room of sunning rest and relaxation. Women and men bask themselves in artificial sunlight. Not to mention, these are extraordinarily good-looking Alphan women. It's interesting to note we are seeing a variety of set pieces not seen before in Space:1999 in Force Of Life. There is much eye candy here in more ways than one my friends. Anton cam is particularly cool. If my fcollege ilm professor asked us to choose something for dissection and analysis this would be an episode I would proudly display for all.

Anton has had better days and we, like Eva, worry for him as he slips further into the alien abyss.
Clearly Anton has come to the right place. The artificial sunlight serves Anton's alien parasite well as the host body of Anton absorbs the heat lamps with pleasure. Main Mission is alerted to the power fluctuations in the Solarium. Koenig, Carter, Bergman and others rush to the scene. Tanya Alexander is there and summons command for help. Alexander looks awesome half-naked. Koenig arrives as Zoref moves toward a bikini-clad Alexander and shoots out the power. Koenig and company don't fully understand what's in play or how Anton is ticking at this time, but the move causes him to fall to the floor. The musical composition that accompanies the entry is also particularly peculiar and is notable for adding to a deliciously enticing science fiction atmosphere.
Zoref is alive, but even Russell knows moving him is "too dangerous." Koenig makes a command decision himself and with some trepidation touches Zoref's face with his bare hand. It's clear the team realizes Zoref may suck the life right out of them with simple human contact. When Koenig makes contact Zoref is unconscious and temporarily neutralized. Russell makes the point it may be safe, but it's temporary.
Yes David Tomblin, we really love this shot too. GULP!
Zoref is relocated to the Medical Section. Zoref is strapped down and relocated to an observation room. Koenig doesn't want Helena going into that room should he regain consciousness. She doesn't see him coming out and she promises to stay out. Koenig points out to a security guard outside for Russell. Could Koenig have pointed him out to inform us he would be the next victim?
Bergman and Koenig confer over one of Bergman's classic multi-colored, heat signature charts. Bergman indicates the alien force is inside Zoref. Computer is of little use in identifying it. That's the great thing about Computer on Space:1999- nothing. It's only as good as the data loaded into its data banks. How can you explain away the inexplicable and the unknown? Space:1999 doesn't try to get cute or fancy in serving up a bunch of phony computer data as frequently constructed by the writers on any number of Star Trek incarnations. This is Human Intervention 101. The Computer is okay, but it's never a crutch. It's up to us to figure it all out or get lucky. Bergman indicates the power source is "growing like mad." Koenig and Bergman cannot understand the purpose of this alien entity. "We can speculate forever, that's not our problem." That's it! They may not fully understand their new surroundings, but they must find a way. Koenig knows the force must be dealt with while it is still "relatively weak."
The heart breaks for Anton Zoref.

In the Medical Centre, Zoref returns. There are no straps strong enough to hold him down. Zoref breaks down the door as Russell jumps in fear. Zoref moves towards her. Russell attempts to escape using her CommLink, but the door will not open. All power is gone to the facility. Main Mission is alerted. The Security Guard is notified [that it is his time to die]. Yes, the man is transformed into the human popsicle. Zoref exits behaving more alien force than man. His physical transformation is nearly complete.
The lives of Eva and Anton hang in the balance.
Koenig puts an order out through Alpha. Zoref is highly dangerous and not to be approached. All Stun Guns are to be carried. "If attacked, shoot to kill." Eva Zoref hears the directive. Understandably, she freaks out. Can you blame her? Someone needed to pull her aside and speak with her first. I understand time is of the essence, but that was cold in its own right. She is desperate to save her husband before two lives are lost, his and hers. Koenig asks Paul how quickly base power could be deactivated. Morrow indicates "seconds." Koenig wonders how long Alpha would survive without it. 20? 30? 40 minutes? An hour? Main Mission receives a visual and power is being affected wherever he Anton walks. He has become a force indeed. Bergman deduces Zoref's path of direction. He is headed to Nuclear Generating Area 3. Koenig and company must get to him first. Eva, too, is en route there in an effort to salvage what happiness she has on Moonbase Alpha, her husband Anton Zoref.
Anton Zoref is dying and it's in Ian McShane's eyes. The David Tomblin effect continues.
Anton is on the move. Koenig orders all power be cut. The entire base submits to black out. Medical patients are the most susceptible to the power loss. This is a nice touch of reality injected into the story and the consequences of command decisions and actions on Alpha. Anton physically trembles as a result of the power loss. Eva runs to Anton. He is clearly agonizing. After viewing this episode several times, in particular this sequence, I realized the creators were working Space:1999 on another level. Whether a conscious decision by Byrne or not, Force Of Life is very much a love story and I don't say that lightly. Anton and Eva are very much the central figures in this particular story. I couldn't help but feel Johnny Byrne was working into the tale an almost Beauty And The Beast aesthetic. The lighting on Anton's eyes highlight the beast. The light on the near angelic Eva is juxtaposed against Anton's guttural, grunting words and primeval, feverish brow. The scene makes for terrific, emotional cinema. With his transformation complete Anton desperately reaches in for what humanity remains wishing no harm come to Eva. Conversely, Eva loves Anton so much she is willing to sacrfice her life to touch him, hold him, heal him and love him. Her heart breaks for him and it's really captured beautifully on film. This is pretty moving as Anton warns his wife. He struggles with the alien occupier within.

This is certainly not body horror in the traditional sense of physical transformation, but Force Of Life tackles the concept of physical possession by a foreign entity and the impact it has in chaning Anton Zoref. Sadly, the adaptation is thorough Zoref loses his identity and is fully assimilated by the creature. It is a powerful episode successful on every level. Carter rescues Eva who is gravely concerned for Anton's well-being. Mathias is losing patients and patience. This was clearly a command decision by Koenig or people would continue to die at the hands of this alien invader. Morrow contacts Koenig for power restoration. Koenig will not give the okay "and that's final." Morrow clearly struggles with the order. It is a truly ethical dilemma that is presented to our "good man" Paul. Nevertheless, Paul Morrow remains the faithful soldier placing his trust in Koenig's edict.
As the command group pursues Zoref, Bergman begins clenching his chest as a result of the mechanical heart's own required power. Zoref is at the threshold of Nuclear Generating Area 3. Zoref charges the men. A single blast from Carter's Stun Gun severely burns Zoref who falls. His skin is charred and clothes are burned, but his eyes remain aglow. Zoref is essentially "regenerated." His physical transformation also emphasizes that Zoref is clearly no longer human, but the monster he had become. This is simply an indelible image from my childhood. Zoref's transformation to something beyond human is complete. His fate is sealed. Why the creators came up with this physical concept is a mystery, but a brilliant creation. He opens the doors to the Nuclear Generating Area. Koenig orders all power restored. The men vacate the area as the doors close behind Zoref. Fully exposed, Zoref enters the power grid and explosions ensue completely destroying the radiation-saturated Nuclear Generating Area of the base and fully absorbing the creature that once was Anton Zoref. All personnel are rocked across the base. Koenig orders radiation shields in place. I suspect this answers any questions concerning radiation containment. The blue light exits the base back into the space from whence it came. With it lifts some part of the spirit of Zoref like stardust. I enjoyed these final moments between Bergman and Koenig attempting an explanation for the strange events that had transpired.

The blue light ushered in the Force Of Life and exits in the final moments.
Your heart bleeds for Eva Zoref who is left in the greatest pain in some ways as a result of her loss. Despite Russell's empathetic tenderness toward her, Eva is left peering out the window more lonely than ever before. Her isolation on Moonbase Alpha feels that much colder. It is a downbeat ending that I truly enjoyed. Inexplicably she stands before the great void of space with no understanding of how Anton is gone. It is moving.
If Force Of Life presented me with any problems it would be that I only wished Ian McShane was a regular cast member throughout the series. I would have enjoyed getting to know the Zorefs. This episode is a rousing success due to a number of contributing factors: strong writing, terrific science fiction, solid pacing, and a splendid guest cast. The viewer is invested from the moment Anton turned over in his bed to face his wife Eva. From the moment Anton wakes into the warmth and comfort of Eva's arms we cared about the fate of this man and his wife. Space:1999 is unabashed in staring down life with death and leaving us with sobering conclusions.
In the end, Anton Zoref is gone and once again the Alphans are no wiser in comprehending his loss. This is a reality of survival and Anton Zoref was one of the unlucky ones. Eva is also a casualty in this loss. This is easily my favorite episode to date and will remain one of my favorites of the series. It is a brilliant, delicious fusion of science fiction and calssic horror. My bias for McShane is not an influencing factor as I was not as generous to the McShane-infused Babylon 5: The River Of Souls. So did Force Of Life let me down? Call it science fiction nirvana if you will. It's no surprise Ian McShane would become the actor he is today based on this shining entry of Space:1999. Force Of Life is a force of science fiction in every aspect of the creative process. If you see a handful of Space:1999 episodes let this be on your list. Why did it have such an impact on me as a child? Perhaps it defied the expression from my mother "there's no such thing as monsters." Here we had a monster among us and it looked like you and me. They were always the scariest.
Force Of Life: A
Writer: Johnny Byrne
Director: David Tomblin.

Special Guest: Ian McShane [1942-present]. English born. Anton Zoref. McShane delivers a performance that might have been lost on a lesser talent. His guest spot remains one of the strongest in the Space:1999 pantheon on Gerry Anderson guest stars. His television roles include: Roots [1977], Jesus Of Nazareth [1977] as Judas Iscariot, Lovejoy [1986-1994], Babylon 5: The River Of Souls [1999], Deadwood [2004-2006] as Al Swearengen and Kings [2009] as Silas Benjamin. He also appeared in Magnum P.I. [1982], Miami Vice [1987] and Dallas [1989] among others. His film roles are vast as well including Sexy Beast [2001], Scoop [2006], We Are Marshall [2006], The Golden Compass [2007], Kung Fu Panda [2008], Death Race [2008], Case 39 [a film by Pandorum's Christian Alvart], 44 Inch Chest [2009] by the team behind Sexy Beast, and Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides [2011].

Special Guest: Gay Hamilton [1943-present] Scottish born. She appeared in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon [1975] and Ridley Scott's The Duellists [1977]. She has also appeared in a number of British soap operas and series.
The set splendor of Nuclear Generating Area 3.
Director Footnote: David Tomblin [1930-2005]. English born. The late Director's work is clearly underrated and he is little known outside of a massive resume as an Assistant Director. However, his work as director can be seen in two episodes of The Prisoner [1968], two episodes as writer-director on Gerry Anderson's UFO [1970-1971] [The Cat With Ten Lives & Reflections In The Water; Anderson clearly exhibiting his eye for talent], one episode of The Protectors [1972-1974] and four installments of Space:1999 [1975-1978]. His assistant directorial mark can be found in Braveheart [1995], Empire Of The Sun [1987], the Indiana Jones trilogy, Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi [1983], Gandhi [1982], Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back [1980], Superman II [1980], Superman [1978] and many more. His career spanned 1948 through 1998.
The David Tomblin effect.
Oddly, SciFi Now refers to the final moments of Zoref entering the nuclear reactor as one of the "Worst Scenes" of Space:1999 Year One. How on Earth do they come up with that kind of conclusion? I was going to write an entry on SciFi Now, but I've decided to include a few thoughts here now. How that magazine was Voted Best Magazine 2010 defies logic and I may need to investigate further. Who voted for them? It's a terrific looking magazine, but it is your typical cut and paste, ultra-commercial glossy with absolutely no substance between the covers. There are instances you wonder whether the writers actually know what they're talking about. SciFi Now #10 is a case in point. They do a retrospective on Space:1999, but Year One only. In SciFi Now #10 the magazine cites Zoref's ability to open the reactor door as a question. Did the writers watch the episode? Why is this even a question? I'm puzzled. They also refer to the lack of clarity given to these moments in the final minutes of the episode. Does it require explanation? I'm beginning to think the writers honestly do not understand the series as covered extensively here earlier or they are too young to care about taking the time. It's exactly this kind of writing in these hyper-commercial science fiction magazine offerings that make you realize all too easily why these magazines simply are not very good. There's just no meat on the bone. This is why it takes time to give readers here a decent entry. One must absorb their science fiction like the blue light absorbed Anton Zoref. SciFi Now just doesn't rank as a serious source of science fiction information.
For serious insights, who better to offer additional thoughts on Force Of Life than the late Johnny Byrne himself. These comments are lifted from The Catacombs. I enjoyed these remarks concerning the indefinable entity from the installment. "I decided it was much better that this creature had no sort of actual human malevolence, that its actions should be what it was; without good, without evil, simply doing its thing. It had an imperative, a kind of instinctive thing driving it. Of course, these things have to be visualized in terms of science fiction for the screen so the way I found it was to turn him into a heat-junkie, he was just like an addict. The thing inside him would need a fix every so often and we had him going through these spasms where he'd draw heat out of any object. As for that star reference at the end of the entry, Someone, I think, forced me to put in the notion that it was a star in the making. I think that this was a foolish notion, because it was better to say that we simply didn't know what it was. If you want to draw a comparison, it's the caterpillar and the butterfly, but in some impossibly difficult and imponderable circumstances. It was one of those situations where not knowing the answer was where the drama lay. Knowing would have killed the drama. I felt that the performances and the direction were superb. David Tomblin got a tremendous sense of pace with Ian McShane striding through those corridors, which are usually the most boring of shots but somehow David could invest them with tremendous energy and drama. David could communicate that sense of urgency... you would actually get off from watching somebody walking down the corridor."

Further thoughtful commentary comes by way of Author John Kenneth Muir. For more substantive analysis we turn to Muir's Exploring Space:1999. It's clear after reading the entry through once, both Muir and myself note the visual style and flair for storytelling through the camera is of significant note in Force Of Life and essential to its success. He points out the many camera techniques employed and how they affect Byrne's terrific story. I experienced many of the same things watching the episode. It's clear what Tomblin was hoping to achieve on film is conveyed for the intelligent science fiction fan. That's not to say all critics enjoyed this particular episode, because they did not - more on that in a moment. For serialized television what Tomblin achieved for the small screen can only be referred to as near cinematic in scope and quality. It is a sight to behold and Muir recognizes this in detail.
I'm sensing marker effects here. Nice.
"The extended use of slow-motion photography prolongs the terror of Zoref's intended victims." These camera shots really create a general impression of a "brutal Zoref" as an unstoppable "invincible" force of lethality. "The color and focus on Zoref's face further reflect that this human is in the grip of an alien force by shifting dramatically from blue to red (symbolically cold to hot) when Zoref is draining his victims. All these fantastic touches make "Force Of Life" look more like a full-fledged feature film than a television program shot in just a few days." Amen.
Muir points to the often unfair critical lambasting of Space:1999 utilizing Force Of Life as no exception. Let's be clear here, Force Of Life is one of the best of Space:1999 and it is a brilliant moment in science fiction. Muir points to a number of critical examples that are unkind to Force Of Life. Most notable he points to an interview given once by Martin Landau himself, whereby the late Buster Crabbe [1908-1983] complained he "couldn't understand" Force Of Life. Muir points to the fact Landau simply shrugs not knowing himself what it was all about. This is frustrating, but informative. Space:1999 was never given a fair shake to begin with and incident after incident compounded the perception problem that developed unfairly against this series. Quite frankly, it's bull---. I mean no disrespect to Martin Landau and his talent, but from what I've read and what I've seen from various resources, Landau was never the series' strongest advocate. Am I being kind? This non-committal, disloyal response by one of its own is the kind of attitude that has truly harmed Space:1999's legacy. In fairness, and I know I'm coming across fairly heated here, Landau, probably responding out of deference to Crabbe, should have defended Byrne and Tomblin's story, not to mention his own association within it. Apparently Crabbe, basking in the glow of his own sci-fi ego, and a number of critics alike, essentially folded under the weight of a growing blue orb of light called envy and fell in line with the uninformed to criticize a series that deserved better. Landau, too, never appeared to be its greatest proponent and its a shame the criticism came from within as much as it did from the outside. Though, I may not have the complete picture. I've recently obtained a copy of a documentary that I hope will shed some light on the matter. Indubitably, people genuinely missed the boat on Force Of Life. It ranks among the best in serial science fiction and the lack of understanding out there regarding this installment alone by alleged science fiction critics leaves me profoundly puzzled.

The Force Of Lighting.
"It is the images of the Force Of Life that tell the story." Muir points to some ignorance from the critical field, especially those without a background in film. That's fair. This is a highly stylized, visual exercise as much as it is a beautifully expressed story and without an "appreciation" for technique, some critics seemingly didn't get it. It doesn't take a rocket scientist, as they say, to get it, but I suppose it could happen. Why anyone didn't get this episode is simply astounding to me. The effort put on screen is "quite unusual for television." Perhaps, it was too smart for its own good.
Muir calls part of the success behind the story, "mystery!" This is true. It's a trademark of Space:1999. Mystery is always an element in play with our resident Alphans. Force Of Life really delivers on this concept. Muir points out that many critics didn't learn enough about the alien force. The spoon fed mentality was certainly not satiated by Bergman's explanation at the conclusion of the episode. Muir makes a great point about why Force Of Life doesn't need one. "Even if Bergman had said nothing, even if he had shed no light whatsoever on the events of the episode, Force Of Life still would have worked beautifully." Perfect. Force Of Life is a wonderful piece of self-contained science fiction [period]. Please see the definition of science fiction at the top of my blog. It is "fiction of a highly imaginative or fantastic kind," where in the end you are left to plumb the recesses of your mind for what transpired or what could be. In fact, while Bergman's own hypothesis is a good one and offers the viewer a starting point or springboard for thought, it is not the ultimate conclusion or definitive of the what transpired. As mentioned earlier, Bergman, like us, is searching for answers, analyzing the data and drawing conclusions and this is what Force Of Life allows us to do. Bergman's theories are good ones and sound, but they are not absolute. This is a vast unknown where the normal rules of physics don't apply and variables do not always lead to a logical conclusion.

Muir writes, "The essence and driving concept behind Space:1999 is that space is a mystery. Sometimes it is frightening and sometimes it is wondrous. Is it really necessary to explain where the alien originated, how it thinks, why it chose Zoref, where it is going, and so forth? If all those questions were answered, the mystery would be gone, slaughtered in the rush to find a convincing scientific explanation or psychological motivation. There would be no time for horror, no room for awe, and no sense that the Alphans are strangers in a strange land." What a terrific rendering of the inane critical response delivered upon Force Of Life. Muir asks if Alec Guinness understood the force in Star Wars? The answer is no. Did we understand it? No. Let us further illustrate the disaster that is the point of the reveal. When Liam Neeson attempted an explanation for the force in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace [1999; released after the writing of Muir's book], the explanation sounded silly, ludicrous and sucked the mystery out of something enjoyed by Star Wars fans for decades. How many of you rolled your eyes? This can't possibly be what the citics wanted? But the omission of a spelled out explanation was decried by critics of Force Of Life. Folks, this is Space:1999 for cryin' out loud! Critics never recognized the mysteries inherent to the series build. Besides maybe the alien picked Zoref for his cool name.
The final moments of Anton Zoref.
Muir's final thoughts had inspired some of my own similar thoughts expressed earlier. "It is unfortunate that critics have never understood the mystery and awe that permeates Space:1999 Year One because this shortcoming has caused them to misunderstand and misrepresent the nature of Force Of Life and other stories for 20 years. Force Of Life deserves to be remembered as one of Space:1999's, and science-fiction television's, most memorable and horrific hours." This is precisely the point. Critics have maligned the legacy of Space:1999. These perceptions have jaded viewers and stained some of television's finest science fiction moments. Once again, Muir, clearly the uncontested anlayst in horror and science fiction, points out why Force Of Life works on both levels. It's a classic and worthy of your attention. The greatest compliment I can give is that Space:1999 looks and feels uniquely Space:1999 and that is a rare achievement in science fiction.


John Kenneth Muir said...

Wow! Great review and close-up of my all-time favorite Space:1999 episode.

Thank you for highlighting Johnny Byrne's thoughts on this unfairly maligned episode and series; and also for including my own words in regards to the episode's imagery and reputation.

This is a beautiful and invigorating post: the photos are perfectly selected, and your words are powerful indeed!

John Kenneth Muir

SFF said...

The Waterboys have a song called The Big Music from a recording called A Pagan Place [1984]. Thank you for your Big Praise. It means alot.

Likewise, this is one of my personal favorites in science fiction television and wanted to give it the proper treatment.

I put alot of work and effort into it and it means alot that you appreciated it. Thank you.

Richard F said...

Really enjoyed your dissection of a superb episode. Great to see Tomblin get the praise his work deserved. The criticisms of Buster Crabbe, Asimov etc always puzzled me - weren't they capable of grasping the metaphor of Space:1999? Must get round to covering this episode in a future issue of 'Andersonic', been my favourite for years.

SFF said...

Richard F- Thank you for the additional comments. I'm right there with you on Tomblin. What a talent.

I truly hope to find the time to pick up Andersonic and do a little write up on it right here. It looks like a terrific fanzine! All the best.

Brett Gerry said...

David Tomblin's work on this and shows like UFO and The Prisoner was one of my earliest inspirations: he went on to become one of the industry's most respected assistant directors, but he had a unique talent and approach recognisable across these shows (the use of light, handheld cameras and wide angle distortion from unusual angles) that deserves reappraisal.

On a different note, this article may interest all fans of Space: 1999, and sci-fi in general

SFF said...

That's a fascinating link Brett. I'm quite intrigued by it all and will be exploring further. Thanks so much.

Tomblin was indeed one of the best. A real talent.

Thanks for letting fans take a look at your plans.

Anonymous said...

Great review. Have you seen Message From Moonbase Alpha?

It premiered at the Breakaway convention

SFF said...

I have not.

I do have the box set and it does include Message. I hope to watch it soon.

Thank you.

Mark S. said...

I hope you post more of these reviews on Space:1999 episodes. An incredible series that was ahead of its time.

SFF said...

Thanks Mark. Holding out until the release of the Blu-Ray in November. :)