Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Sci-Fi Fanatic BIG 10: Science Fiction TV Shows

"Because you demanded it!" -Marvel's Stan Lee-

OK. You actually didn't demand it, but I bring you The Sci-Fi Fanatic's BIG 10 Sci-Fi TV Shows anyway.

These favorites are based solely on my love for the genre and personal taste. These lists are always debatable and many of the shows that did not make my list are arguably classic or influential or considered far superior to those placed in my Top 10.

But, these are the ten shows I love. They are the ten series this writer watches repeatedly for a host of reasons. In my book, the creators behind these shows got their vision right. They nailed their world-building. And the shows are infinitely re-watchable as a result of capturing all of the right elements at once including cast, chemistry and writing.

Without further adieu the ten best science fiction TV shows according to The Sci-Fi Fanatic are:

10. Stargate SG-1/Stargate Atlantis.

9. Battlestar Galactica (Classic).

8. The X-Files.

7. Farscape.

6. Firefly.

5. The Expanse.

4. Stargate Universe.

3. Space:1999.

2. Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined).

1. Star Trek: The Original Series.

So, those are the big ones for me. Interesting that I eschew the comedic in favor of the more seriously toned series. And while I have them listed by number I'm not entirely sure any of them fall necessarily in that order. In other words, they are easily interchangeable. Sadly of those series only Stargate SG-1 is unavailable on Blu-Ray. Space:1999 is also partially unavailable as Year Two never saw a Blu-Ray release stateside.

Here are a good number of series enjoyed for various reasons some of which could make the Top 10 if I had more room. There are aspects to these series that knocked them out of the running for me. That's not to say that my ten picks are perfect or without their flaws either. Notable mentions go to the following:

11. Star Trek: The Next Generation.
12. Colony.
13. Lost In Space.
14. Land Of The Lost.
15. Battle Of The Planets.

16. The Incredible Hulk.
17. Buck Rogers In The 25th Century.
18. Star Trek: Enterprise.
19. Doctor Who.
20. Bionic Woman/The Six Million Dollar Man.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017)

"Just play yourself, that became my whole approach."
-Harry Dean Stanton in Billboard-

Gosh I just loved Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017), God rest his soul. What a character.

This writer learned of his passing over the weekend in Vermont. I was talking film with a fellow film aficionado when I was waxing poetic about the many splendors of Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas (1984) starring the man as Travis with actress Nasstassja Kinski.

The man I was speaking with hadn't seen the film and I implored him to do so. He says, "did you hear Stanton just passed away." I was stopped in my tracks. Of course he was 91, but who wanted to see that man ever leave this place.

But what a character actor he was and a singer to boot. He was the kind of man, along the likes of William Sanderson, who wrote the book on character actors. He was genuine and real because he projected himself beautifully in every role with many, colorful, layered shades of Stanton.

As film critic Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 about the Wenders film. Stanton once said about Paris, Texas,  "Stanton has long inhabited the darker corners of American noir, with his lean face and hungry eyes, and here he creates a sad poetry." Amen. Paris, Texas was gorgeous.

As Stanton once said following the film and landing a lead, "If I never did another film after Paris, Texas, I'd be happy."

But Stanton had done many films before and after as well as a massive number of television roles too.

No matter how big or small the role Stanton was a joy to watch on screen.

Some of my favorite films in which he appeared apart from Paris, Texas, were Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Godfather Part II (1974), Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) as Brett in one of the scariest and most terrifying and sad scenes in the film (thanks H.D.), John Carpenter's Escape From New York (1981) as Brain, Repo Man (1984) by Alex Cox as Bud, John Hughes' Pretty in Pink (1986) and Frank Darabont's The Green Mile (1999). Of course there are many films still yet to be explored by this writer including a bunch with David Lynch including Wild At Heart (1990), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), The Straight Story (1999) and Inland Empire (2006) as well as Tricks from the mini-series Hotel Room (1993) (I've always had difficulty with Lynch). The Pledge (2001) is also on my radar but I'm hoping for a Blu-Ray release one day.

In television I was riveted by his role as a polygamist leader Roman Grant opposite the late Bill Paxton in HBO's Big Love (2006-2010) for five seasons, but his appearances in TV were vast and many. From westerns to Adam-12 to Twin Peaks (2017) the man was a humbling force on screen thanks to his presence.

He was great and touched greatness too working with directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Sam Peckinpah, John Ford, Norman Jewison, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese alongside the aforementioned other talents noted earlier.

Like the name of his last film starring Lucky (2017), we were lucky to have him and fortunately so many of us know it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Land Of The Lost S1 E4: Downstream

"Tasted a whole lot like lobster."
-Mr. Collie on eating Sleestaks-
"This is a closed universe."
-Rick Marshall-
"I kind of feel bad for when you guys were kids."
-The Boy Wonder mocking my viewing enjoyment of The Land Of The Lost-
Leave it to our children to dismantle our rose-tinted glasses.

One of the most alluring aspects of Land Of The Lost to me, still, today, is its immersive world-building and science fiction universe. What Land Of The Lost achieved in creating its impressive pocket universe reality in the 1970s on a shoestring budget slated for Saturday morning children's fare is still nothing short of amazing.

When you consider the world creation of Stargate or The X-Files, and that generous application of British Columbia, one has to tip his or her cap to a series that genuinely transported its viewers to a very special, seemingly creepy and hostile place and planet.

Even more astounding is viewing Land Of The Lost with those mature adult eyes and finding it still holds up so incredibly well as an entertainment.

A recent viewing of The Herculoids and The New Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn proved not so kind. Those aforementioned series still look amazing, but the content doesn't hold up as well in the endurance test department. Quite the opposite stands steady for Land Of The Lost today.

Land Of The Lost really begins to pile on the mythology of its pocket universe by throwing viewers the best curve ball since the existence of the Sleestaks, while injecting the creepy creatures into the latest exercise for good measure.

Where are we? What is this place?

Walker Edmiston guests on the show as a civil war survivor, a confederate soldier. The little known Edmiston has made quite a career of character acting.

Edmiston, lo and behold was the voice of Sigmund The Sea Monster in Sigmund And The Sea Monsters (1973-1978). He delivered voice work for H.R. Pufnstuf (1969) and gosh darn Ernie The Keebler Elf.

He appeared in everything from Buck Rogers In The 25th Century to The Dukes Of Hazzard.

The actor even handled the voice of Balok in the Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, Episode 10, The Corbomite Maneuver. And while Edmiston plays a significant role here in building on the Land Of The Lost universe it would not be his last and only experience. Edmiston would return as Enik The Altrusian, costumed as the intellectual root of the Sleestak race, in Land Of The Lost, Season One, Episode 6, The Stranger.

Land Of The Lost, Season One, Episode 4, Downstream wastes no time in establishing its clever intentions to build continuity and establish a set of operating characters and rules within its "closed" pocket universe. Just as Chaka and his band of primitives would make numerous appearances and return in future episodes, the Sleestaks arrive once again here (you could never get enough of the Sleestaks) along with Dopey who returns from his Episode 3, Dopey.

Dopey catches Marshall, Wil and Holly floating off downstream on their raft.

When the trio meet former Confederate fighter Mr. Collie and his faithful cannon it's another fascinating interaction.

The man has miraculously kept the Sleestaks at bay, but he has also discovered along with our heroic family the value of the various colorful crystals when struck together can create blinding light or explosions. This is the land of the lost and the mysterious and the unknown as our family learns to survive.

And what kid doesn't remember the family with Mr. Collie jumping into the water to escape the approaching Sleestaks as wooden arrows are hurled at them. It was truly frightening though those arrows never did have the kind of forceful impact of a true arrow. This was a kids show. It makes sense now.

What always impressed about the series was the genuine sense of an alternate universe on very small sets and blue screens. A truly incredible, vast environment was imagined and created.

Some real effort is paid here, following the establishment of important characters and a sense of place in previous episodes, to build a sense of mythology and offer, in its short timeframes, further information that lends Land Of The Lost a striking credibility and a more substantive tone than most for what became a Saturday morning favorite.

One of the most charming aspects of Land Of The Lost was the sincerity that was poured into the characters by the respective cast members. This coupled with wonderfully thoughtful, mythology-laced stories made for a thrilling adventure series. And it was indeed the spirit of this mysterious journey into an unknown pocket universe that seem to play so effortlessly. Each episode drew the viewer into its mysteries and rewarded with engaging adventures always leaving us wanting so much more. It began with the dinosaurs as kids but the creative minds behind the series, including actual science fiction writers like Larry Niven, made it so much more.

Writer: Larry Niven.
Director: Dennis Steinmetz.