Thursday, September 13, 2018

Lost In Space S1 E3: Island In The Sky

"Warning! Warning! Warning!"
"Destroy!" (altered from "Kill" in the original script)

The impressive Lost In Space start continued with Tony Leader's second and final installment behind the camera for Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 3, Island In The Sky.

Leader, as a director, ran filming off schedule for two episodes, the two longest in the series' run in The Reluctant Stowaway and Island In The Sky. As a result of these cost and time overruns, Island In The Sky would be Leader's last working for Irwin Allen. Leader would move on to direct Gilligan's Island (6 episodes) and even Star Trek's For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky (S3, E8).

Additionally, this would be Norman Lessing's only scriptwriting contribution to the series. Lessing would write for Hawaii Five-O, The Fugitive, BonanzaBaretta, family favorite Eight Is Enough and more.

Third episode Island In The Sky is loaded with firsts for the show. Apart from the declarative battle cry of Robot (see above), we are introduced to the hardware that is The Chariot. We are also given to the delight of Debbie the Bloop, Penny Robinson's new lost in space companion. Angela Cartwright's character, Penny, was an associative student of zoology which made her natural association to animals on the series rather logical.

"Don't trust him. He's as slippery as a bucket of eels," declares Major Don West as he is as clear-headed as anyone about the character reality of Dr. Zachary Smith. This is the first openly distrustful entry in the war between West and Smith during season one.

Robot is manipulated yet again by Will Robinson's impersonation of Smith (arguably that's a tough one to accept). This is just one of the many clearly non-scientific absences of genuine logic in the series and Island In The Sky is certainly replete with them. Just keep those aspects of the show in perspective through the proverbial suspension of disbelief and you'll have a blast.

Visually, Island In The Sky also treats us to some wonderful scenery and location shooting as the episode utilizes some considerable footage from pilot No Place To Hide's crash landing sequence. Judicious editing in these first five episodes is impressive in its own right. And even the set production is top notch and a joy to explore within each entry. Director of photography Gene Polito plays a big part of the look for the series.

Composer John Williams returns for his second tour infusing scenes with suspense and tension where sometimes it's rather required. That score cannot be underestimated in its ability to fill space.

Island In The Sky is yet another hour of a gorgeously restored space adventure. This fan of the classic series, one of his favorite science fiction shows in the history of science fiction, is ever so grateful for the preservation of this television series in its current form. Even Rotten Tomatoes recently noted series worthy of binge watching and noted the original Lost In Space in its August 2018 list. For me Lost In Space is an island unto itself on a purely artistic level and is generally underappreciated by those outside the lure of its orbit.

Writer: Norman Lessing/ S. Bar-David.
Director: Tony Leader.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century S1 E1-2: Awakening

"The only home I know is 500 years away."
-Buck Rogers-

"You see Buck, we've been catalogued. Numbered. Voice printed and everything else from the day we were born. Everyone including our enemies have records of each other. But you and you alone have dropped into our world from nowhere. You can go anywhere. Be anything. Anyone. And baffle the identifiers of the universe. ... A man working for peace and order."
-Dr. Elias Huer-

"The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America's deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger III and its pilot, Captain William 'Buck' Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems and returns Buck Rogers to Earth … 500 years later." -voiced by William Conrad-

The man out of time and propelled 504 years into the future, into the 25th Century, is one (biddi biddi biddi) Captain William "Buck" Rogers of the United States Air Force. Queue Elvis Costello's Man Out Of Time (1982), a seeming tribute in music to our old boy Buck a year later. Frozen and effectively preserved he is awakened and captured by the voluptuous Princess Ardala and her right hand Kane of the Draconian Empire before meeting his 25th century human counterparts in Colonel Wilma Deering and Dr. Elias Huer.

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century (1979-1981) was a vintage era Glen A. Larson production. Sound and special effects were comparable to sister series Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979) and many of costumes, visual effects and props from that series were recycled here to generally good effect. These applications managed to keep the budget under control (perhaps it shows a bit) and managed to give audiences two seasons of the series. Irwin Allen often recycled in a similar fashion on his own shows like Lost In Space (1965-1968) and Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1964-1968). Allen seemed to set precedent in TV, a real trailblazer, and here was Larson indeed carrying that torch in the 1970s and 1980s. But Larson's strong ideas never seemed to achieve the necessary financial traction with networks to endure. Despite lacking the massive personality of Allen, Larson's work still took hold in the annals of science fiction history.

Whereby Ronald D. Moore would reimagine Larson's Battlestar Galactica decades later, Larson was recreating Buck Rogers for a new era featuring Gil Gerard as its titular action hero.

The character, Buck Rogers, was created in 1928 by Philip Francis Nowlan. Larson brought the character into the 20th Century and which had surprisingly not really seen a proper rebirth of the property since 1950-1951.

As a fan of science fiction I remember quite vividly seeing both the Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers In The 25th Century pilots in cinemas. After exposure to Star Wars (1977), of course, this writer and fan wasn't about to miss a thing when it came to science fiction film even if it was glorified television in the day. Today, this author prefers science fiction television over film. Nevertheless, I've always been a big supporter of both Larson productions.

Of course looking back on Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, despite its budgetary limitations, it still looks very good and the show was abundant in its charms. It was indeed the characters that populated Larson's world that really won my heart then and that aspect of the series still shines.

Gil Gerard's Buck Rogers was fantastic, a natural and he was surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast forming the Earth Defense Directorate in Dr. Elias Huer (played by the wonderful, late Tim O'Connor), drone Twiki (the voice of Mel Blanc and performed by Felix Silla) and not to ever be forgotten the incredibly sexy Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) in full on catsuit spandex. These were indeed my four favorites on the series. The cast is so uniformly superb they compensate for any scripting shortfalls and the light, entertaining bounce of the series makes for such a wild and entertaining little escape.

Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic had yet to cover Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. So we right that ship and remedy that beginning with Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, Season One, Episode 1 and 2, Awakening.

To make that happen this writer purchased the region-free Blu-Ray import of the series and the picture quality for its period is solid if imperfect but a reasonable upgrade to the stateside DVD release.

The cast chemistry, though a bit awkward in its debut here, relaxes across Season One and becomes a breezy, relatively fun and entertaining affair.

The episode taps into the kind of pulpy roots that made the vibe of such serials as Buck Rogers (1950-1951) and Flash Gordon (1936 with Buster Crabbe for 13 episodes; 1954-1955 with Steve Holland for 39 episodes) so much fun against Ming The Merciless. Instead here we have Buck Rogers against the Draconian empire. But it all very much belies its comic book pulpy root fun. Glen Larson along with Star Wars had tapped into something special in the 1970s and brought to life a number of exciting properties. As a result a Flash Gordon (1980) film by Mike Hodges and Dino De Laurentiis would follow a year later.

By and large Buck Rogers In The 25th Century feels a bit second rate to something as detailed and beautiful visually in its design work as Larson's own Battlestar Galactica. Still, the charms of the series keep things afloat.

Costume design with its samurai embellishments never quite reach the height of those tremendous Colonial pilot uniforms. The Earth fighters, Draconian bombers, the Draconian flagship never quite appeal to the eye with the same dramatic allure of those Battlestar Galactica designs, but one is more or less forgiving in order to enjoy this unusual cast of characters at work.

However, there is a mix of originality here combined with recycled ideas from Battlestar Galactica, The Omega Man (1971) and Star Wars (1977) to be sure, replacing Cylons and the Empire with Draconians or Vipers and X-wings for something inferior, Draconian pirates for stormtroopers, Twiki in place of R2D2 and Dr. Theopolis for C3PO, but somehow it works and there are easily elements to embrace here. The disco-flavored tunes of course may not be one of the draws.

Still, Twiki declaring his adoration for Princess Ardala's body may be one of the all-time hilarious comedic highlights by any robot in science fiction. The essential humor ("I hope you know this violates my warranty") compliments of Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny) employed by Twiki just keep you coming back for more. This fan laughed openly a few times along with lines by Twiki ("Catch ya later Buck") and Dr. Theopolis ("Yes it was an attractive hat"). This is classic humor that really picked up the episode exemplifying that Buck Rogers In The 25th Century knows exactly when not to take itself too seriously. Timing is everything and it is perfect here in spots.

And by gosh that Pamela Hensley as Ardala is a specimen of physical perfection easily giving the uptight Wilma Deering in tights a run for her money. Biddi biddi biddi couple of hotties.

Despite some dumb logic and non-sensical decisions (an emergency channel shared by Earth and the Draconians --- what, Buck on a midnight walk through a post-apocalyptic city --- really, Twiki running around the Draconian flagship completely undetected --- huh) we forgive it.

Buck is a man out of time and in a sense lost not unlike John Crichton would be in Farscape (1999-2003) two decades later. We are intrigued by his story and are drawn to the fish out of water tale and where the 25th Century will take this man.

Awakening covers familiar action adventure ground in science fiction, but introduces us to a fine cast of characters that become likeable and accessible to more interesting stories as the series relaxes. So it may not be original science fiction fare, but it is a fair bit of fun with a series that surely awakens in its own right. In time, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century delivers a mixed bag by Larson and co-developer Leslie Stevens of The Outer Limits (1963-1965) acclaim, but there are plenty of things to enjoy about the series along the way. Awakening gives us a glimpse of that but by no means the best of the series.

Writer: Glen A. Larson/ Leslie Stevens (The Outer Limits).
Director: Daniel Haller.
Flavor Flav would be proud.
A launch tube on color steroids.