Friday, October 30, 2020

Jonathan Harris And Irwin Allen: On His Lost In Space Character Dr. Zachary Smith

"I was young and sweet and delicate and I said to myself, "Deep, dark villain?" There's no longevity in it- people will get bored with it. It's not pleasant. So I thought to add something- I thought I'd add "comic villainy"- at which I excel. So I started to sneak it in. Just little bits here and there, and then the ratings started to move up, which is all that matters. It is the bible of Hollywood. No numbers? Out into the snow! No questions asked- out!"

-Jonathan Harris, Interview: Jonathan Harris 2, William E. Anchors, Jr., The Lost In Space Encyclopedia II, (p. 348).

"Smith was despicable, desperate, selfish, cowardly, delightful, charming, awful, dreadful and marvelous. All of that I gave him. I was a lovable comic villain."

-Jonathan Harris, Starlog Magazine #248 (p.28)-

"The original Smith was a deep, dark, scowling villain and I hated him. … he was just so damn rotten."

-Jonathan Harris, Starlog Magazine #248 (p.29)-

"Smith was not originally created as a comedy character. He was just a villain, a constant threat in the first few episodes. Jonathan Harris was such a marvelous actor with great comedic overtones. He dictated what we should do with the character, and Dr. Smith became a villainous comic. We loved it. We loved it right from the beginning. Smith eventually became the show's big draw."

-Irwin Allen, Starlog Magazine #100 (p.29)-

"I don't remember who recommended Jonathan for the part, but I owe that person a dollar."

-Irwin Allen, Starlog Magazine #176 (p.59)-

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Lost In Space S1 E8: Invaders From The Fifth Dimension

"What makes some series, like Lost In Space, memorable  and popular some 30 years later is some mysterious chemistry between the characters and the actors who played them, as well as the vision of the producers and writers who developed the pilot. It's that elusive quality which is so easily lost or travestied or misunderstood when people today attempt a remake."

-Shimon Winceberg, who developed the series with Irwin Allen, Starlog Magazine #220 (p.72)-

"That's it exactly! I'm a scoundrel. A thoroughly bad sort. Hopelessly unreliable. I'm doing you the greatest favor by furnishing you a substitute for my morbid, villainous brain."

-Dr. Smith working the Invaders from the Fifth Dimension-

"Love. What is it?"

-Invaders from the Fifith Dimension-

The eight entry in the franchise was of course not only foreshadowed at the end of My Friend, Mr. Nobody, but was actually previewed first at the end of the series pilot No Place To Hide.

Writer Shimon Wincelberg under the pseudonym of S. Bar-David returns for his last scriptwriting contribution with Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 8, Invaders From The Fifth Dimension.

Though the invaders originally appeared at the end of the pilot No Place To Hide, when that same stock footage was utilized for The Hungry Sea (S1, E5) those invaders were not revealed and dropped so that The Hungry Sea would instead segue way into Welcome Stranger (S1, E6). Well, the invaders, and Wincelberg's original concept reappear here for Invaders From The Fifth Dimension.

Ultimately, it was another episode that turned to footage from the original pilot, No Place To Hide, for its story use following two original stories, Welcome Stranger (S1, E6) and My Friend, Mr. Nobody (S1, E7).

Wincelberg after utilizing his pseudonym S. Bar-David was feeling less chafed about the script changes for Invaders From The Fifth Dimension and in the end allowed his real name to appear in the credits. Wincelberg had a solid history as a writer alternating between his real name and S. Bar-David for the credit he would be given. His contentious relationship over his scripts with Irwin Allen would conclude on Lost In Space with this episode. Though he would pen one story each for Allen's  Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, Season Two opener Jonah And The Whale (1965), and The Time Tunnel (1966-1967), Season One opener Rendezvous With Yesterday.

Wincelberg also butt heads with Gene Roddenberry over at Star Trek (1966-1969) but still penned Dagger Of The Mind (S1, E9) and a personal favorite, The Galileo Seven (S1, E16), both under his pseudonym S. Bar-David following rewrites of his work yet again.

In science fiction Wincelberg wrote for The Immortal (1970-1971) and Harlan Ellison's The Starlost (1973-1974). As S. Bar-David he wrote the series finale for the Planet Of The Apes (1974), Up Above The World So High. He used his real name for Man From Atlantis (1977-1978) episode Imp. Nonethless his schizophrenic crediting approach on various series still earned him a notable reputation in science fiction.

Wincelberg would later work on medical TV series Trapper John M.D. and others up to and including Law And Order before retiring in 1997.

Invaders From The Fifth Dimension saw the creative team and writers at Lost In Space facing the writing on the wall from CBS concerning Dr. Zachary Smith as a villain of child endangerment lording over Will and Penny on the series. Many requests were made regarding the character's actions as well as Will Robinson's reactions. Ultimately things were going to change for Smith and those changes were slowly slipping into the show by actor Jonathan Harris himself along with the pressures asserted in that direction by CBS itself.

I'm not sure why the Dr. Smith character, played by Parker Posey, on the new Netflix series reboot didn't work for me, but her stamp on the character and her contemporary form of twisted menace just doesn't quite work.

Harris was exceptional at balancing the part of opportunist and villain and manipulator where required. The cast of the original Lost In Space was also excellent at holding his feet to the fire while begrudgingly accepting his presence and often coming up short of banishing his ass from their castaway family along the way.

A recent viewing of USA series Colony (2016-present) reminds me once again of how good Harris was in the part. Actor Peter Jacobson plays a very good, similar, more contemporary creation called Alan Snyder on that series. Of course the variables are different including the fact the character is earthbound and surrounded by a vast pool of recurring characters and more contemporary, dynamic dramatic conflict. It underscores and illustrates just how impressive Harris' Smith was being locked into a small, family-bound cast. What he and that cast achieved week after week with the scripts they were provided during an early era of television is nothing short of amazing.

In Colony Alan Snyder smugly informs a colleague in the episode Disposable Heroes (S3, E11), "I play all sides, that's my gift." And as good as Jacobson is in that role, best I've seen in some time in that capacity, Harris was indeed one of the best villains ever created and he was largely responsible for making that happen, a real natural like Jacobson is himself in Colony.

While the transformation was happening for Smith, the writers and creators were finding ways to soften Robot with the younger eyes at home. Efforts were made to make him less unpredictable and more likeable. In many ways the same happened to Godzilla as that franchise prospered into the 1960s. Godzilla would become a hero figure for children, in part thanks to Gamera, rather than the unpredictable force of nature as the creature was first established.

This latest, fine entry in the series was directed by one-time Lost In Space director Leonard Horn. Horn worked for Irwin Allen on six (6) episodes of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea Season One and three (3) for Season Two. Horn also worked on The Outer Limits for three (3) episodes (The Man Who Was Never Born, The Zanti Misfits, The Children Of Spider County) and even directed the pilot for Wonder Woman (1975) but sadly died young at just 48 years of age the same year of Linda Carter's Wonder Woman's launch and even before it aired.

The invaders of the entry are also frighteningly macabre in much the same way the aliens disturbed us in Star Trek pilot The Cage. At this point, we are far from straight up monster of the week-styled storytelling. Invaders From The Fifth Dimension is also thoughtful in its approach to a downed alien craft dealing with many of the same problems as our Robinson family. The uniqueness of the otherworldly creatures is further amplified by the ominous, simple but uniquely designed, Tardis-like alien spacecraft.

The entry focuses on communication and the value of life as projected by the Invaders. It would be the last contribution by writer Shimon Wincelberg and a memorable one. And once again, Lost In Space on Blu-Ray completely remastered has never looked more amazing.

Writer: Shimon Wincelberg. Director: Leonard Horn.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Battlestar Galactica S1 E5: You Can't Go Home Again

"Kara was family. You do whatever you have to do. Sometimes you break the rules." -Commander William Adama-

One of this writer and science fiction fan's most vivid memories of Battlestar Galactica's first season was the survival story of Kara "Starbuck" Thrace on a nearby moon separated from the surviving human fleet.

The Red Planet visual aesthetic and vibe of Battlestar Galactica, Season One, Episode 5, You Can't Go Home Again following Starbuck's narrow escape from a Cylon battle in Act Of Contrition (E4) left an impression. Visually the creators of the episode nail it. With her Viper destroyed Starbuck is forced to abort to a nearby moon parachuting in along with a sole Cylon Raider also damaged in the attack. The creators take us into the world of the enemy and Kara's own determination.

With her Viper out of flight commission and her oxygen running out (once again dramatically racing against the clock as the fleet did in 33), Starbuck works desperately to get the Cylon Raider back in service to escape the moon and return to the Galactica before leaving the sector.

One of the most intriguing sequences visually comes in the form of the realization by Starbuck that the Cylon Raiders themselves in the new series are completely filled with bio-mechanical guts rather than actual centurion pilots. In a nice bit of mythology building for the new series versus the old is discovering that the spacecrafts for the Cylons are essentially alive. They are bio-engineered to operate without Centurions as it was in the original show as we so vividly recall the trio of centurion pilots in the original craft. It's a clever evolution and avenue for the new series.

The Cylon Raiders themselves are a slick, crescent moon-shaped craft in the new series, though nothing quite matches the design of those classic Cylon Raider originals. Still, the face of the new Raider pays homage to the old Cylons in appearance. They are of a simple design and effective and easily as sleek as the classic vessel, just not quite as a appealing in their lack of detail.

One of the most interesting sequences is Commander Adama snapping at Colonel Tigh out of desperation and seeming guilt over the loss of Starbuck particularly following his unresolved exchange with her in Act Of Contrition. It's a powerful moment and one that reflects his love for Starbuck and his love for the pilots and crew of his ship.

One thread in this first season that continues to underwhelm is Karl Agathon or Helo with Sharon running about Caprica in a survival mode of their own as they try to determine a way off the planet. It's simply not especially gripping and those roving Cylons look just unimpressive with over a decade and half of aging computer animation. A revisit of the series wouldn't hurt in time.

You Can't Go Home Again displays a battle of wills between the military arm (Adama) of the fleet (though there are some intense and compelling moments between Tigh and Adama internally) and the civilian leadership (Roslin). Both are at odds and continue to set up the ongoing human conflict within the fleet of hawks and doves. Adama sees the needs of the one in Starbuck, personal as it may be, outweigh the needs of the many. This is clearly the grittier flipside of that selfless Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan outlook when Spock declares "The needs of the many outweigh" the needs of the few "or the one" which is the antithesis of the events in question here.

Upon introspection Adama and the crew prepare for jump to the next system, but not before Starbuck, operating inside of Cylon gore, makes it back to the Galactica.

The final scene between Starbuck and Commander Adama brings us full circle to those initial heart-wrenching moments in Act Of Contrition between the two. The paternalistic Adama ameliorates the falling out and repairs their bond by underscoring Kara as family with a kiss on her forehead relieved she is alive and back on board. With Zak gone this family may not be able to go back home the way it was ever again, but the bonds they form aboard the Galactica will continue to bring them home to each other. Family will endure in yet another form.

You Can't Go Home Again turns out another solid entry in the series first season and delivering closure on a high note, relatively speaking, one of the more optimistic of the series. It was also a highlight for the character played memorably by actress Katee Sackhoff.

Writer: Carla Robinson.
Director: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (Raised By Wolves, The Terror, Invasion, Falling Skies and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).