Friday, May 24, 2019

Battle Of The Planets E19: The Sea Dragon

"Let's see if he'd like to drag a little with us."

It's a mostly well-known fact to fan circles of Battle Of The Planets, the American adaptation of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, that our fearless, young, orphaned heroes, Mark, Jason, Princess, Tiny and Keyop were actually translated from their Japanese counterparts.

In Japan, the heroes are Ken the Eagle, Joe the Condor, Jun the Swan, Ryu the Owl and Jinpei the Swallow respectively.

In keeping with our effort to continue to shed light on the classic, beloved, heralded by few, anime series Battle Of The Planets we dig deeper yet again.

President Ippei Kuri of Tatsunoko Productions lent some insight into the avian motif behind the characters of his company's Science Ninja Team Gatchaman in Newtype USA. Ken Washio (washi translates as Eagle), or Ken the Eagle, highlights Kuri's efforts to run with the cloaked bird style for their superhero look. Who doesn't like a good cape?


Kuri noted, "Everyone wanted to put color on everything. So white stood out the most" (Newtype USA, August 2004, p.19). It's fairly well-known that good guys wear white and Ken or Mark, as he is affectionately known in the USA on Battle Of The Planets, was indeed the epitome of the good guy with the symbolic Eagle as a soaring majestic bird of nobility.

But truth be told Tatsunoko worked in a rather different bird for Mark's costume? Kuri sought to incorporate a bird of pure white and ultimately decided upon the crane. Kuri and company worked in crane markings for Mark's helmet. Red and black details infused into the character's uniform were based upon the crane, not the Eagle.
And with that, without further adieu, we look at another Mark-centric mission in Battle Of The Planets, Episode 19, The Sea Dragon.

Tatsunoko’s animation sparkles and shines yet again in this memorable Mark entry in the series. G-Force are tasked by Chief Anderson to travel to the planet of Aquatica to remove Spectra who has taken residence there.


In the first part of the entry Mark humorously inquires with his team family if anyone wants out because the adventure ahead will be daunting. Once again underlining the strength of family and family loyalty the team makes it clear each and every one of them is on board the Phoenix.

Upon arrival to Aquatica the team must face a robot Sea Dragon on the water planet. Mark wasn’t overstating the perils that await the team as the team is literally knocked around to the point of temporary defeat.


To date this writer can’t recall the team beating that is put on display here. It is brutal and each and every team member is knocked unconscious. The Phoenix is nearly torn apart and left to take water at the bottom of the ocean. Mark attempts to right the ship and save the team but alas is too weak.

The Sea Dragon does a splendid job of highlighting the fact that even heroes don’t win every battle. This is underscored by the severe beaten the team takes leaving them to be rescued by a civilian force and returned home.

For the second portion, the Phoenix is rebuilt completely and the team returns to Aquatica to finish the job using a devastating device called the Frigid Midget that freezes everything within a 500 yard radius and well covers all aboard the Sea Dragon including the Spectran Goons.


Mark is tasked with the mission of planting a weapon aboard the ship.

This episode includes an unforgettable scene that I recall from childhood where Mark is stuck in a corner with the encroaching cold surrounding him closer and closer by the second with his life in peril. The tension and suspense is palpable as the walls essentially close in as Mark waits desperately for the ship to break apart without taking his own life.


He hangs on as the Sea Dragon breaks apart from the extreme cold. He leaps to the ocean to be rescued by the rest of his team. Tatsunoko once again pencils a gorgeously warm image of Mark waving against a sunset backdrop offering us the convention of the rescue shot. The sun setting as the mission is completed. All in a day’s work for G-Force.


Once again, the animation is truly glorious and some of the stills are ravishingly penciled and it is a stunning looking entry in the series. One of the hip words for kids today when something is awesome or cool is 'fire' well The Sea Dragon is fire and it's worth seeing.

Science Ninja Team Gatchaman Title: The Firebird Versus the Fire-Breathing Dragon.
Up Next: Magnetic Attraction.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Don Marshall: On The Time Tunnel And Land Of The Giants' Lack Of Character Depth

"If the writers had dealt with the little people's emotions more, it would have made for better drama---and for a better show.
Irwin Allen steered away from personal relationships and human emotions.
His Time Tunnel series was the same thing.
The characters were dealing with what was 'out there' rather than what was inside."
-Don Marshall, Starlog Magazine #230 (p.23)-

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Land Of The Giants S1 E3: Framed

"Land Of The Giants was pure escapism."

-Esther Mitchell, Starlog Magazine #160 (p.60)-

As we enter the little people, big world universe of Land Of The Giants with Season One, Episode 3, Framed, we continue to be in awe of the ideas and ingenuity of the series' production design work and the many astounding, gargantuan props to create the illusion of this giant land.

The concept of miniature people and large props has been employed in film. The Borrowers (1973, 1997), The 3 Worlds Of Gulliver (1960), Attack Of The Puppet People (1958), Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989), Ant-Man (2015), Downsizing (2017), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Inner Space (1987), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Indian In The Cupboard (1995) and more all have fun with the process of miniaturization in comedy, science fiction and horror. To see a TV show tackle such a concept for the small screen was indeed no small feat.

Here in Land Of The Giants Irwin Allen and company were doing something very special technically for two seasons (51 episodes) of television---a massive undertaking.

So far Land Of The Giants is filled with wonder and action-adventure excitement as the crew of the Spindrift (it's actually easier to refer to large ensemble cast this way) move from threat to threat out of sheer survival. But referring to the crew of the Spindrift as a whole is partly by design as we have yet to see any real character development or even cast interaction of any real depth. Still looking for a big heaping helping in that department for Land Of The Giants.

Unfortunately all we learn from Framed is that most of the crew have a moral conscience as they make every effort to save a hobo from being framed for a girl's murder. This is purely plot-driven narrative drama.

We also witness quite possibly the worst bit of criminal justice investigation of a crime scene known to humanity as two officers simply fall for the plot, take none of the surrounding evidence with them and let the real killer off Scott free. This is a pretty deplorable law enforcement scenario.

Framed is a pretty weak entry in the series as stories go. We get your requisite shots of big cameras, gopher holes, large hands, big doorbells, photography trays and a match book to name a few and all are truly impressive, but the writing needs to be better than Framed to frame these intriguing characters in the right light.

In the end we know more about the nameless photographer (performed by Paul Carr) in the episode than our Spindrift friends the "little people." That's never a good thing.

Even lead Gary Conway affirmed with Starlog Magazine (#151, p. 20), "I don't believe there was enough focus on the characters themselves."

Indeed the audience is never pulled in and we're beginning to witness evidence of that. This routine is beginning to play out as formula, but the visual magnificence of this series is mammoth.

Writer: Mann Rubin (The Mod Squad, The Six Million Dollar Man, Starsky & Hutch). Director: Harry Harris (The Waltons, Eight Is Enough).

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

David Nutter: On Millennium

"He (Chris Carter) had this pretty radical idea for a show that openly acknowledged that there was evil in this world---which was a dynamic that Thomas Harris had dealt with, both with his books and with his movies like Silence Of The Lambs and Red Dragon, but which nobody had ever had the balls to present on national television, in any fashion, before.
But what Chris did was take that idea a little bit further and temper it with the central focus of a somewhat long-in-the-tooth guy, played brilliantly by Lance Henriksen, whose agenda was to actively root out this evil and vanquish it while simultaneously trying to cultivate, within the safe confines of his home, a 'normal American family.'"

-David Nutter, SciFiNow #18, p.63-

Millennium concluded its television run on May 21st, 1999, twenty years ago this day. It seemed like a good opportunity to sneak in a little post regarding the series.

The Millennium (1996-1999) series worked brilliantly and this approach, given its ties to such source material as mentioned by Nutter, may explain why a series like Hannibal (2013-2015) worked so equally well as if carved from the very same stone because it was. Hannibal was indeed a kind of spiritual cousin to Millennium. Hannibal was perhaps the evolution of Millennium in terms of television. Both series were extraordinarily dark, but beautifully crafted as narratives and strikingly lensed series. There was a visual art to these series often absent from most crime shows on mainstream television.

Interestingly, for this writer, Hannibal was at its best for Season One. Season Two was a close second. Season Three, while still a gorgeously filmed palette in step with the previous two seasons, felt a tad rushed and likely much of what was planned for additional seasons was shoehorned into Season Three.

Likewise, Millennium lost some appeal for me after its first two seasons. Season Three was good and enjoyed its fair share of compelling entries, like Hannibal, but didn't quite match the narrative focus of its strong first two seasons for me personally.

Recently, Mindhunter (2017), created by Joe Penhall and produced and directed by director David Fincher, has been perhaps the strongest television entry to delve into these dark waters and the idea of the profiler/protagonist walking very closely, narrowly so, to that fine line between darkness and light that both Hannibal and Millennium achieved. Mindhunter is indeed the best entry in the genre since, though not as generous with its visual flourishes.

Touching darkness got me thinking about how time flies. It's been seven years since the publication of Back To Frank Black: A Return To Chris Carter's Millennium (2012) of which I was fortunate enough to contribute. The material in that book like the aforementioned series on which its based still stands strong as a subject matter with no signs of dating itself. The book as a whole is a real work of quality, a labor of love for fans of the series and any new fans who should be discovering it today. It's an exceptional companion for those who dare to dig deeper into its world.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Thunderbirds S1 E10: Martian Invasion

"This is International Rescue. Now I'm requesting you to stop and hand over the film of the rescue operation.
Now do as I ask, please!
If you don't hand over the film now I'm going to have to use more persuasive methods."

-Scott Tracy (voiced by Shame Rimmer)-

Yes, it's FAB FRIDAY! And the latest heavenly creation from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
Martian Invasion has little to do with actual real Martians or aliens. It's almost refreshing when you consider UFO (1970-1973) and Space:1999 (1975-1977) as Anderson productions. The Martians here are simply part of a science fiction film production. The film being produced features Martians attacking two police officers. With the set sabotaged by the sinister Hood two of the actors lives are jeopardized and International Rescue is called in to save the day.

Earlier The Hood reaches through to his brother, Kyrano, with a mind link and manipulates his brother, a man servant to the Tracy family on Tracy island, to disable the automatic camera detector within Thunderbird 1 to allow the evil Hood to further his quest to film International Rescue gear in action at the behest of a powerful employer.

Without question Thunderbirds, Series One, Episode 10, Martian Invasion proves yet again to be an endlessly entertaining kids' show loaded with fantastic equipment for the big kid inside all of us. If you're a kid at heart you just never tire of the model and effects work compliments of Derek Meddings and Brian Johncock.

Meddings to remind everyone offered significant modelling contributions to some of my personally favorite James Bond films in the Roger Moore years. Live And Let Die (1973), The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979) and For Your Eyes Only. All feature the late craftsman's handiwork. He even worked on the Pierce Brosnan incarnation of the 007 franchise with Goldeneye (1995). He worked on The Land That Time Forgot (1975), which also featured Shane Rimmer (the voice of Scott Tracy), and provided major contributions to Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) before he passed away in 1995.

Brian Johncock, here, later Brian Johnson, was THE man on Space:1999, and notably Alien (1979) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

Thunderbirds 1 and 2 are spotlighted here complemented by Pod 5 and the Excavator on display here to shine.

As always the special vehicles of Thunderbirds have their moments in the sun. To date we've enjoyed the Elevator Cars (S1 E1 Trapped In The Sky), Recovery Vehicles (S1 E2 Pit Of Peril), The Firefly (S1 E3 City Of Fire), the Transmitter Truck (S1 E4 Sun Probe), The Mole (in some of the aforementioned episodes), and now finally the Excavator, the most exciting pod vehicle since those aforementioned. The machine digs, grinds and essentially spits out the powdered by-product through its ass end rear pipes until it inevitably reaches the water where the two trapped men are minutes away from drowning. Always a thrill.

Now a few questions. How is it the brother, Kyrano, of one of the world's great villains manages to receive employ with International Rescue? After all the Tracy family is a staunch advocate to the absolute secrecy of their organization. They have money. Were background checks even performed? Is the diabolical Hood really that ingenious? I understand The Hood is a mystery and the Tracy family are nice people. Scott Tracy even pleads with the bad guy using the word "please." My how times have changed.

The remainder of the episode sees Scott and Virgil in their respective rescue vehicles working to reclaim and hunt down the film taken of their rescue mission. Can you imagine the nightmare these people would have in age of the modern handheld camera phones? Even if the automatic camera detector disabler wasn't working you would have difficulty trying to collect every device in the area to be sure.

In the end The Hood crashes and Scott Tracy simply assumes the film could never survive the crash. Is this really good practice by an elite, top secret group, crossing their proverbial 'T's and dotting their "I"s? I think not.

Still, Thunderbirds is infinitely entertaining and colorful. The magic of Supermarionation just pulls us in to their mesmerizing world as if even viewers are led by strings. That fab world is compliments of Gerry And Sylvia Anderson and it is on full display here for yet another fantastic FAB FRIDAY!

Writer: Alan Fennell.

Director: David Elliott.
Notable Thunderbirds: Thunderbird 1, Thunderbird 2, The Excavator, Hoverbike.