Friday, July 21, 2017

Martin Landau (1928-2017)

"If we understand others, in time, I believe, we come to understand ourselves."
-Martin Landau as John Koenig of Space:1999-
The loss of Martin Landau (1928-2017) has sadly arrived.

Whenever I saw this tremendous actor perform and see him so aged at 89 I cringed at the thought of losing him.

This FAB FRIDAY, a day that celebrates all of the fantastic from the wonderful world of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, a world of which Martin Landau was a big part, belongs exclusively to Martin Landau.

Landau was indeed at the heart of one of this writer's very favorite science fiction series, Space:1999 (1975-1977). The series is covered often here. It would easily rank in my BIG 10 for science fiction television.

Landau was the thread and the heartbeat to two solid years of Space:1999 programming despite the losses on that series of key players between Year One and Year Two. Despite losses, actors who had their roles minimized and the introduction of new characters Landau's Commander John Koenig was at the heart of the show. It was Landau, along with his then wife Barbara Bain, who grounded and helped make Space:1999 such a successful dramatic science fiction series.

Landau also co-starred with Bain for the first three seasons of Mission: Impossible (1966-1969), another extraordinarily influential franchise in popular culture.

Landau was one of those actors that managed to break free of the constraints of science fiction affiliation and enjoy a laudable, rewarding career in film.

In science fiction Landau starred in two episodes (Mr. Denton On Doomsday, The Jeopardy Room) of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) and two episodes (The Man Who Was Never Born, The Bellero Shield) of The Outer Limits (1963-1964).

Following his stints in sci-fi he landed important roles in Tucker: The Man And His Dream (1988), Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989), Ed Wood (1994), The X-Files: Fight The Future (1998), The Majestic (2001), Remember (2015) and 9 (2009) just to name a few highlights.

He guested on a tremendous amount of television but surprisingly no love for the Love Boat or Fantasy Island. Somehow that doesn't surprise me.

For this sci-fi geek's money Space:1999 will remain an essential classic and one of this television fan's very best sci-fi series to make an Eagle landing on TV. Personally, Landau's often decisive, sometimes hot-tempered demeanor had a lot to do with how memorable that series was for me. Again, Landau lifts off at 89.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Stargate SG-1 S1 E10: Bloodlines (And The Importance Of A Quality Mythology)

"You're over a hundred years old?
God, I'm sorry."
-Jack O'Neill to Bra'tac-

Star Trek: The Next Generation penned a fair number of Worf-centric stories. Some of those tales surrounding Michael Dorn's Worf were among the series' very best often penned by Ronald D. Moore.

Stargate SG-1, across its ten season run unabashedly offered a number of opportunities for actor Christopher Judge to spread his wings in Teal'c-centric tales capitalizing on its equally varied cast.

Judge, one of the fantastic four (this fantastic four is better than the Marvel movies) of SG-1, is no thespian, but performs in the role admirably and plays his stilted alien role rather deftly.

Still, Dorn, whose character stories this writer much prefers, was a little more seasoned by the time he took on his part for the series. The Worf character, for me, was also a more interesting character.

Judge however grows into the role nicely over ten seasons of the warrior turned slave turned liberator in SG-1. But the concepts for these two supporting alien characters are generally drawn from a similar spiritual pool when it comes to the convention of the alien who has allied with humans in the science fiction genre.

Judge delivers for the role as much as directors brought the best out of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his screen appearances.

This writer doesn't mean to judge Judge too harshly either. Tastes are relative and to each his own. Personally I was never a huge fan of Teal'c, but his role in the series was still undeniable and an important one.

On a recent business excursion to Oklahoma, a flight with American, a Stargate book in hand and a few Voka and Cranberry cocktails later---I was feeling pretty damn good. What happens to the Sci-Fi Fanatic when he's feeling good? Well, he behaves, perhaps laughs quietly to himself, but most certainly doesn't get thrown from the flight. In fact, this writer begins to consider why he still appreciates Stargate SG-1. What was it I still enjoyed so damn much about this ten year run of science fiction action adventure? The answer came to me. Vodka and cranberry on ice does that apparently. Like a bolt from the blue at however many thousand feet above the Earth (I was like Thor from the Asgard or the Ascended looking down from yonder), it became clear.

The fact was Teal'c and Daniel Jackson were likely my least favorite characters on their own. Carter and O'Neil largely my favorite. Yet like that Marvel quartet the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Together there was a strength of quality in numbers. This was a functional team unlike many ensembles. The group was a powerhouse of storytelling to rival any of the many science fiction ensembles in science fiction history be it Star Trek: The Next Generation or Farscape or others. At the very least Stargate SG-1 can hang with the best. And when you consider those other properties, those too work in much the same way. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There is indeed strength in numbers. And as Jim Butcher wrote in his article Artificial Intelligence And Genuine Stupidity, E Pluribus Unum, "out of many, one" (p.57, Stepping Through The Stargate: Science, Archaeology And The Military In Stargate SG-1), the imperfect made whole makes for a fairly mighty series.

Apart from these wonderfully formed characters of which they indubitably are, what else? There had to be something more. The cocktail spoke to me again.

It was that long, rich mythology. Indeed, to quote the man (Teal'c), it was ten years of a fascinating weave of science fiction wonder, characters, allies, enemies, creatures, worlds (yes, even if many looked like Vancouver), humor and of it that culminates in mythology. This isn't entirely of my own design and revelation. This epiphany came to me whilst reading the essay We Need You Back by J.C.Vaughn again from Stepping Through The Stargate (see my praise for the book way back here).

It was Vaughn's point that partly inspired this piece. Vaughn noted, "the show's creative staff found the internal logic of the series right away" (p.88). Vaughn added later, "characters...actually remembered things between episodes from season to season. They accumulated knowledge and memories that would come into play in future adventures and informed the thought processes of the characters just as they informed the viewers" (p.89). And so Stargate SG-1 near seamlessly over ten years weaves its characters into this mammoth, logical mythology and one that lost characters forever, and even intelligently brought some back.

The X-Files (1993-2002), for example, certainly has a wonderful, enduring, even unfinished mythology that remains unfulfilled and many science fiction fans adore it for this reason. At essentially a ten season run The X-Files still gives the fans plenty to mine and explore and endlessly appreciate. For some Stargate SG-1, despite the ironic title of its series finale Unending, brought a sense of closure and completeness to its run. It all came about, like the very gate itself, full circle (another Stargate SG-1 episode).

Did fans of six seasons of LOST (2004-2010) feel that same sense of closure? Maybe. Was it a logical and complete mythology? For some its metaphysical and philosophical underpinnings indeed continue to cultivate the fertile mind. To others LOST is a meandering, maddening and indecisive affair when it comes to its mythology that seems the victim or result of "write as you go."

Again, Stargate SG-1 may not be as challenging or quite as cerebral as LOST or as politically savvy and timely as Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009), but most would argue its ten seasons came to a wholly satisfying end within what appeared to be an unending franchise and one arguably more fulfilling than Ronald D. Moore's four season reimagining of the 1978 classic. Though personally, this writer quite enjoyed the two part Daybreak (2009).

And as wonderful as Star Trek and its variations are, the internal logic has been broken time and again and often and, though forgivable, defies logic. Spock would not be pleased.

To even make the point of memory in his article, Vaughn joked about memory on Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969) calling it the "poster child" of not getting that part right. "The guys in the red shirts never say 'Hey, Bill, what happened to Eugene?' or anything like that. ... It never dawns on them that if they're not Scotty, they're dead meat. It's like they don't even watch the show, let alone live it" (p.90).

Again, it is this internal logic in Stargate SG-1 that grows with each ensuing season building on what it was that came before it.

And so with Stargate SG-1, Season One, Ep10, Bloodlines, that mythology continues.

Bloodlines concerns itself with the introduction of Teal'c's furtive world. On his homeworld Chulak lives his son Rya'c and his wife Drey'auc. Even former Apophis First Prime Bra'tac, who instructed Teal'c, resides there. Another apostrophe anyone?

And the enslavement of the Jaffa hangs in the balance along with the possibility of stemming the tide against the Goa'uld (there's that apostrophe) by severing the symbiotic source of these false gods. Ho-hum. The deadly serious Teal'c and his accompanying arc just bored me to no end. But, the reaction by his SG-1 comrades was always the more interesting aspect of these stories for me personally.

Of course there is all the business with implantation and the coming of age to become Jaffa and receive a Goa'uld symbiote or larvae. It's disgusting too with serviceable effects.

For those requiring a better understanding of both the larva/symbiote and the Jaffa, Judge offered some wonderful thoughts in an excerpt from Starlog Magazine #251.

The Goa'uld larva is carried to maturity by its host. "It's a mutual kind of symbiosis. I nourish it, and it nourishes me. It allows me to go many days without sleep, without food. It heals any injuries I might have. But in turn, it feeds off my system. I breathe for it. I eat for it. I nourish it. I carry it for seven years; at that point it's mature enough to leave my body and exist on its own in another host. It can also, after that time, be strong enough to control the host it inhabits." It all seems perfectly logical right. Sometimes I truly believe you must be a fan of science fiction to completely grasp what's going on.

The Jaffa thread was often handled with care too. Judge delivered some personal reflections in Starlog Magazine #251 on the comparison of the Jaffa in a historical context to slavery. Judge noted he was "kind of worried" about possible flak from critics and friends for taking a role as a slave on a TV series, until he saw that his character would quickly emerge as a leader.

"I saw [the slavery angle] right off when I read the script, and that's why I was attracted to the character. He was going to have the chance to rebel and free his people from their oppressors. That, to me, directly parallels the horrible American legacy of slavery, even all the way up to the '60s and the [Civil Rights] movement, where things start to change and an aggressive leader emerges at the movement's forefront. That's very much how I see Teal'c. Most people see him as very heroic and very noble."

But even when this writer does not particularly connect with one piece or another of it, one thread or parcel part of it, there's always something new and different around the corner. Yet, these stories are seeds to later stories and the mythology grows like a redwood in Vancouver and Stargate SG-1 has one of the most fertile and fantastic mythologies in science fiction. Stargate Atlantis (2004-2009) and Stargate Universe (2009-2011) add to that variation and diversity beautifully. Is it necessarily brain science or as smart as some of the best in science fiction. Arguably not, but one could defend there is a kind of perfection in its simplicity. So like it or love it, like the SG-1 team through a wormhole, there is plenty to plumb the depths of and explore here.

The Goa'uld, the Tok'ra, the evolution of the Replicators, the evolution of Daniel Jackson, the introduction of Jonas Quinn, the introduction of Ben Browder and Claudia Black who fell through a Farscape wormhole and landed inside the Stargate SG-1 universe (sans Scorpius), the Asgard, the Nox (well, maybe not the Nox), the Unas, super soldiers, Robert when did you fly in from Star Trek: Voyager Picardo (and keep returning), and the list goes on. You name it and SG-1 was like a good-humored ever ready bunny. Heck the memory of Rodney McKay's visit to SG-1 and his association with Carter carried over to Stargate Atlantis' Grace Under Pressure (E14, S2). The franchise was relentlessly smart about those threads and tying them together.

And understanding the fact that sometimes Stargate SG-1 gets referred to as an action adventure series by many writers, this one included, should not come as a knock or derision, because it certainly comes off that way sometimes. It is that and so much more. Much of that so much more is due to its colorful and seemingly unending mythology. The series deserves better recognition for this fact alone. It operates intelligently within its universe and does so with such heart and sincerity it's hard not to consider Stargate SG-1 among the top tier of science fiction series ever designed and created.

And we now return with our latest installments of The World According To Jack O'Neill. Here we are treated to a whole handful of wisdom in the Bloodlines entry.