Sunday, September 24, 2023

Another Dynamic Duo

 First you had Batman and Robin.They opened the door to history of dynamic crime-fighting duos throughout the next 50+ years. (OK, so The Lone Ranger predated Batman by a few years, but it really took off in 1966, by my standards). But while such shows as The Green Hornet were rarities, with their superheroes and the secret identities, there were also the typical cop shows, which paired two somewhat dissimilar buddies fighting crime as authorized agents of the law enforcement.

Starsky and Hutch, C.H.I.P.s, Miami Vice. These are the ones that made buddy cops a regular go to on TV. But the heads of NBC, CBS and ABC weren't always on top of their game.  (If they were, we would be watching season 35 of the same shows that got started in the 90's...) So you know that some ideas get off to a good start, but some of them fizzle at the starting gate.

Remember a scene (if you saw the movie in the first place) in Pulp Fiction in which Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) mentions having been in a pilot episode for a TV show that didn't get picked up by the networks? There are several of these every season. And when you feel like saying "WTF is this crap?" when watching a TV show, just remember that it probably beat out something that was probably WAY worse of an idea.  (Of course, there IS a possibility that what was left behind could have been a WAY better idea, who knows?) There is a whole wikipedia page that lists TV pilots  like this, and you can jump to any of the ideas to see if they made a mistake by not picking that one over whatever they picked.  And even that page is not inclusive because it only lists shows that have their own wikipedia entry.

One of the ones not listed there is Tag Team.  I saw the entry for this in an Uncle John's Bathroom Reader entry titled "Lost TV Pilots".  The concept sounded interesting enough for me to look and see if I could find the pilot on YouTube, and (luckily?) I did.  

Tag Team (1991)

 Trying to cash in on the popularity of  professional wrestling, this pilot starred 1980's WWF stars "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Jesse "The Body" Ventura as the Lizard Brothers, professional wrestlers who quit the ring to become undercover cops.

from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader: Wonderful World of Odd

OK, so two pro wrestlers (who are obviously at least somewhat well-known faces, as "undercover" cops?  Just that part seems to have a flaw.  But even getting over that, how far could you go with the main attraction being these two guys who are, obviously, going to do most of their crime fighting by performing wrestling moves on the bad guys? It seems like an idea doomed to fail at the outset to me.  But since Piper, who passed away a few years ago, and Ventura had been making some headway into the acting field at the time, I for one was willing to give them a chance. (Not sure I would have bothered in 1991 but I've mellowed with age).





Tag Team (TV series pilot)): 1991

The Lizard Brothers, "Tricky" Rick McDonald ("Rowdy" Roddy Piper) and Bobby "The Body" Youngblood (Jesse "The Body" Ventura {Yeah, right, I see it too}) are about to go into the ring against another tag team called the Samurai Brothers, Tojo (Pat Tanaka) and Saji (Akio Sato).  They are in the process of getting a name for themselves, and even the head of the Wrestling group (a stand in for Vince McMahon, I would guess) wishes them luck.

But the Wicked Witch of the West (I mean "Wrest") played by Shannon Tweed comes back to tell them if they don't take a dive in this match, they are going to be finished in the wrestling world. She tells them if they actually try and win she will tell her husband that they have been trying to put the moves on her.  She used the same tactic on another wrestler and he is no longer allowed in the ring.

Obviously that doesn't sit well with our heroes, but the fact of the matter is Witchiepoo does have the clout to keep the doors shut if they don't play along.  So initially they think it might be a good idea.  But they do come around to saying screw it and winning the match anyway.  But, the Witch follows through with her threat, so now they are out of the pool as far as wrestling goes.




So what do two former body builders/wrestlers do to pay the rent?  Well they try a couple of various gigs, including an hilarious attempt to manhandle a piano up a flight of stairs.  But the piano gets away, rolls down the flight of stairs, and manages to crash through the flimsiest brick wall this side of a Korean King Kong knockoff movie. And demolishes the delivery truck which just happens to be underneath.



"Rick? I think we body-slammed the truck."


Things do get better, though.  As a result of foiling an armed robbery at a local grocery store (which oddly becomes a wrestling match, go figure.) the two decide to try their hand at becoming policemen.  And despite the best efforts of some people to get them run out of the academy, they do make it as officers. If that female police instructor looks familiar, just imagine her with pointed ears.  That's Robin Curtis who took over the Saavik role after Kirstie Alley refused to continue it on the Star Trek movies.

After graduation, the guys get assigned to their police duties and one of the first duties is to help guard an eyewitness to a mob hit on a couple of undercover cops.  (And, BTW, does that eyewitness looks familiar?  She was the college student that Bill Murray's Ray Venkman was hitting on in an an early scene in Ghostbusters.) 

 The guys are now "undercover cops" themselves.  But in the next scene Jesse is decked out in is usual wrestling attire, so maybe they are undercover as their former wrestling personas (which would seem to limit the possibilities of undercover work if you ask me.)

The safe house is invaded by none other than the two mob guys who committed the murder of the cops.  (Don't ask me to explain how they aren't under arrest, since the eyewitness is due to be in the courtroom the next day. Who is she going to finger anyway?)  Of couse, the whole point of the encounter is to allow the execution of another series of wrestling encounters, so why bother with plot points.  But after throwing them out the window, where they manage to escape, the eyewitness turns out to have booked too.

So they go looking for her and find her at the local animal shelter.  She had just told them how much she loved dogs, so where else would she be?  They grab her and take off for the courtroom where she is just shy of missing her opportunity to be the star eyewitness, but then the two mob guys show up again, and guess what, we get another wrestling show.

So what went wrong with this series pilot? Why didn't such a dynamic plot make it to at least one season of show status?  Well, according to some, it was because there was an internal battle between Disney, one of the backing companies, and another company that tied up a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo.  I actually read a couple of reviews that touted the show as being a victim that WOULD have been a great show.  But, seriously, can you watch the pilot and think the world missed out on a NCIS dynasty?

I'll let you decide for yourself.  Below is the pilot taken from a YouTube page. Watch it if you dare.

Thanks, and enjoy your day.


Saturday, September 23, 2023

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen






This is my entry in the Rule Brittania Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts.





There was a new revolution in science fiction that came to the fore in the late 1990's.  Although it's origins predated it, in 1995 a series of short stories by Paul Di Fillippo (Steampunk Trilogy) is credited with creating the term,  Steampunk incorporates the genre of alternate history, another great science fiction form, with uses of steam technology to create modern style conveniences and tropes into actual history. 

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen started out life as a graphic comics series created by Alan Moore (of fame for Watchmen and the grittier incarnation of Batman) and Kevin O'Neill.  As in the film version, the comic negated the "Gentlemen" part of the title right off the bat with the introduction of Mina Murray, a vampiress that was the spawn of Dracula.

The series spanned several comics and a graphic novel  or two before being tagged as a feature film.and are well worth seeking out.





The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003):

In 1899 London (and elsewhere), there are a series of robberies.  Although the culprits are not who they are purported to be.  The robbery in London is supposedly being pulled off by Germans, and a counter robbery in Germany is supposedly being pulled off by Englishmen. It seems someone wants to create the illusion of conflict to start a war between the two late 19th century superpowers.

To that effect, Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery) is sought out to be recruited.  Quartermain is older than the hills and feel he is beyond his years and declines.  He has been retired for years and living out his life in remote Africa.  One of the things established at the beginning is a quote that "Africa will never let him die". (Keep that in mind.  It comes into play later.)

But it seems that someone is determined that Quartermain will not be recruited.  But the efforts to stop him have the opposite effect.  Quartermain returns to England where he meets "M" (Richard Roxburgh) who is trying to establish a hero contingent to combat the mysterious "Fantom", the mastermind behind the efforts to create a world war.

Quartermain ends up with his first members of his hero contingent and seek out a couple more before they can become a team.  In the end, he has Mina Harker, who is now a vampire {from Dracula} (Peta Wilson), Captain Nemo {from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea} (Naseeruddin Shah), Dorian Gray {from The Picture of Dorian Gray} (Stuart Townsend), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde {from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde} (Jason Flemyng), and Rodney Skinner, a thief who came across the invisibility formula created by Griffin {from The Invisible Man} (Tony Curran.  They also acquire an interloper, a fully grown adult Tom Sawyer, who works with the United States in conjunction with the League.




From London the crew uses Nemo's submarine, The Nautilus, to travel to Venice where some plans are underway by the Fantom to destroy the city. En route they discover that they have a double agent, some one in the League who is secretly acquiring formulas and blood samples from the League, to which purpose is not entirely known.  Everyone thinks that it is Skinner, since he never seems to be around. (Or maybe, he is... he is invisible, after all)

But, as it turns out, it is not Skinner who is the culprit.  It seems the Fantom is blackmailing some one else to help him undermine the efforts of the League... Dorian Gray.  But Dorian is not entirely an unwilling accomplice.  It seems he has an evil side to his nature already in play.  (Which wouldn't be surprising to anyone who read the original source material for the character...)

 And while attempting to prevent the devastation of Venice, another secret is revealed.  It seems that M has a very close relationship with the Fantom.  They are one and the same.  

Dorian tries to sabotage the Nautilus, thus revealing that he is the double agent and the League had been in the wrong blaming poor Skinner.  The League travels to Mongolia to find the secret headquarters of the Fantom/M. Where we discover that the Fantom/M has another identity heretofore unknown.  (I'll leave that one for you to discover on your own if you watch, but here is a tantalizing clue... the character is not dead yet, although everyone thinks he died a few years ago in a fight on a cliff near a waterfall...)

For anyone who is a devotee of classic Victorian era literature, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman has a lot to offer.  And for anyone who became a fan of the later fictional development of steampunk there are a lot of neat little gadgets to intrigue you.  Although LOEG did not make a huge impact with the critics (it only has a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and had to rely on worldwide sales to garner a profit (it only took in $66 million against its $79 million budget in the U.S., but eventually pulled in $149 million before it left theaters), it is still a cult favorite among its devotees.

That's it from the back seat of the Plymouth this time.  Drive safely, folks.




Monday, September 18, 2023

H. G. Wells Week Part II: The Invisible Man

This is my second entry in a celebration of my first hero in the writing world, H. G. Wells. As I have said,. when I graduated from Dick and Jane books and the like to reading at a higher level of comprehension, the first books I got were science fiction. And H. G. wells was one of he first.





The concept of invisibility is one that has intrigued people for centuries.  No less prestigious a man than Plato, even, once described a shepherd finding a ring that granted him invisibility when he wore it. Chrisopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus had the power of invisibility given to him through his pact with the Devil. Cloaks and helmets of invisibility appear in traditions of many mythological characters (human ones), but even the gods of those myths had the power. All of those predate Wells, so he didn't actual invent invisibility, but his concept did influence a lot that came afterward.

As far as Hollywood and film, a list of all the movies and TV shows influenced by The Invisible Man could take up an entire book. As far as it goes, the first movie to be totally devoted to the classic Wells novel was the James Whale directed classic which starred Claude Rains.  Rains, by the way, although not his debut, had never had a starring role, and in fact had only one othe role to his credit before getting the star role of this film.

Following up The Invisible Man Universal green-lighted no less than four sequels (not including two appearances in the Abbott and Costello forays into their "Meets" classic Universal horror icons).  These include The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, and The Invisible Man's Revenge (none of which had Claude Rains).  The Invisible genre would continue even after Universal stopped making the movies however, to varying success.

The touchstone of the genre still remains that classic Whale/Rains movie however.  If you are ambitious enough there are some worth seeking out.  Although it did not really take off, the TV series Gemini Man was pretty good.  Typically, for me as a teen, a TV series which I enjoyed did not connect with the public at large and the series was cancelled before it even got through it's first season. And there was also one of the Disney Dexter Riley films, Now You See Him, Now You Don't

 So, anyway, would you consider invisibility a blessing or a curse.  Well, for the screen portrayals it is more often a curse, because the side effects of whatever concoction (or in the case of Gollum in The Hobbit, a ring) is it causes the benefactor(?) of the ability to move towards insanity. (So much for the teenage fantasy of being able to walk into the girl's locker room...)



The Invisible Man (1933):

It was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly a door banged open.


It was the stranger (Claude Rains) who came in out of the cold.  Wrapped from head to foot in clothes and bandages, he asks for a room at the inn owned by the Halls, (Una O'Connor and Forrester Harvey).  His main requirements are privacy, which he makes clear on several occasions, although not always with a modicum of tact.

The fact is he becomes rather violent at times when interrupted and eventually wears out his welcome.  Mrs Hall insists that Mr, Hall tell him he is no longer wanted as a resident.  But when the man tries to do his duty the stranger forces him out of the room. So Mr. Hall, being the timid sort anyway, tries to get the police involved. 

And guess what?  The stranger reveals to the public that he is "Not all there" (and not just emotionally...)

The Invisible Man (whose real name is Griffin) escapes due to the fact that no one can see him now.  He makes his way to a colleague's house, Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) where he forces Kemp to help him retrieve his notes from the rooming house, which he had to leave behind.  Griffin has been working frantically to find a way to come back from the invisible form.

But in the process of becoming invisible, Griffin had used a substance called "monocaine" which had a side effect of fostering irrationality.  So, while Griffin is struggling with the research, he also has decided that he could use the invisibility to other advantages.  Like becoming king of the world of terror or something similar.

Griffin does have an ally of sorts.  His true love, Flora (Gloria Stuart), believes he is the most lovable and nicest man on the planet, and thinks his love for her and her love for him will save him. (ah, the romantic "love will save everything" trope...)

Griffin eventually makes himself a wanted man, having killed a couple of people who are no longer useful to him (or just annoying the hell out of him, he doesn't play favorites...).  He is cornered in a barn, where he meets the untimely end that usually befalls such egomaniacal figures in these kinds of films.  And we finally get to see what the man looked like before all this.  (The entire movie, up to this point, you only saw (and or heard Claude Rains) in bandages or just his voice.

Given that there are numerous versions of Wells' classic, plus any number of variations, I won't go into any others.  But if you want to compare, here are a few other invisible movies to check out.

The Invisible Man Returns (1940): A sequel to the first one, but "returns" is a slight misnomer, because it isn't as if Claude Rains' character comes back from the dead. Instead it has Vincent Price and a heretofore unmentioned brother of the original Griffin (John Sutton).

The Hollow Man (2000):  Kevin Bacon in the title role as the invisible genius.

Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951): In the series of Abott and Costello "Meet" Universal monsters, this one pales to "Meet Frankenstein" but it is still fun. (And by the way, it was hinted at at the end of Meet Frankenstein)

And lastly, if you thought I was going to snub my director hero, John Carpenter, think again...

Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992): A comedy from the master of horror, and not his best, but I still like it.  Chevy Chase is not the best choice for the star role, but it is entertaining in its own right.

Well, that ends this venture to the drive-in.  Drive safely, folks.


Saturday, September 16, 2023

H. G. Wells Week Part I: The Time Machine

 This is my first entry in a celebration of my first hero in the writing world, H. G. Wells.  When I graduated from Bugs Bunny kiddie books to reading at a higher level of comprehension, the first books I got into were science fiction.  I can't say for certain whether it was an H. G. Wells book, but I do know that from first grade on, I gravitated to science fiction over every other genre available to me. And time travel was always top in that genre.  (Maybe that's why I also ended up as a history major in college).




Whether or not it actually was The Time Machine that was my actual first foray into Wells, it was HIS first foray into writing novels.  He had previously published some short fiction, including a piece he wrote in college called The Chronic Argonauts, but this was his first real success.  And what a story to kick off your career.

In the novel the main character is simply referred to as The Time Traveler (note: I use the American spelling to avoid that annoying spell correct, but the original is spelled with two Ls, as is the British custom), although he would garner a name for obvious purposes in both radio and film adaptations.  The first person narrative of the story is such that we really have two first person narrators.  Of course, the bulk of the story is The Time Traveler relating his adventures as he used his time machine to travel to the far distant future. But we also get Mr. Hillyer, the character who remains in the background mostly as an observer during The Time Traveler's oration of his escapades.

Wells was an avowed socialist and much of his fiction is tinged with socialist ideology.  The story of that far distant future with the Eloi and the Morlocks is ostensibly a parable of what life would evolve into if the current state of affairs (i.e. non-socialist) was allowed to continue. (And note: I do not intend this or any other entry in my blog to espouse a socialist or any other political ideology.  I just note it for it's historical aspect.)

The Time Machine as a story has been adapted for the big screen twice (three times if you include Time After Time, but that was only the jumping off point for the movie, and after the initial idea of time travel is introduced, it goes off in a different direction.)It was also the subject of a made-for-TV film broadcast in 1978.

None of the adaptations include the final trip that the Time Traveler makes after escaping the Morlocks in 802,701.  Before heading back to his own time, the Time Traveler presses on to see how the world actually ends.  It is my guess that part of the reason it never made it to any of the films is that it's pretty much a downer.  Read the full length novel to get this, as I won't delve into it here.












 The Time Machine (1960):

The first film version of The Time Machine was released in 1960 and featured Rod Taylor and Alan Young.  It was also the second H.G. Wells book to be turned into a film by legendary director George Pal.  (His first foray into Wells was in 1953 with a version of War of the Worlds).

Some interesting notes to begin:  The original Time Traveler in the Film was to have been Paul Scofield, but Pal went with Rod Taylor.  Also considered for the part were James Mason and (just imagine) David Niven. In the film all the characters in the novel were given actual names. As stated above, the author (as one of the visitors to the Time Traveler's house) only referred to the main character as "The Time Traveler, but he also only called the guests such names as "the Medical Man", "the Psychologist", "the Editor" etc. Only one character, minor in the novel, was identified: Filby.

In the film, the cast of visitors was reduced to a more manageable number of four.  The guests were Filby (Alan Young), Hillyer (Sebastian Cabot), Kemp (Whit Bissell) and Bridewell (Tom Helmore).  And the Time Traveler himself was given the name "George". His credit is actually as H. George wells, so he is supposed to be the author. 




George, at the beginning, is late for a dinner date with his companions.  He bursts into the room disheveled and begins to relate the story what has happened. To begin with he reminds them of the last week's encounter which he had introduced the concept of a machine that could travel through time, exhibiting a scale model which he causes to zip off into the future.

His friends are disbelieving of his claim that the model went off to the future, and leave.  But George actually has a full scale model in his laboratory which he proceeds to test out after his friends leave. He discovers on his first test that he has actually managed to jump ahead six hours.  Encouraged he goes forward in time, stopping briefly in 1917 and 1942.  (Right during World War I and World War II.)

Discouraged that man still wars with each other he jumps back into his machine, but violent events cause him to stop once again, this time in 1966 (5 years in the future from the time of the movie's production).  Once again, George is disappointed because the world is on the verge of war. In fact, air raid sirens are wailing calling people to hide in the fallout shelters.  George manages to get on his machine and escape just as nuclear weapons begin to fall.

He presses on, but finds his machine encased in a mountain.  (And how the machine manages to not be crushed by this, even though it is hurtling through time is best not to be dwelt upon...) Finally the mountain falls away and George stops the time machine.  He finds himself in a lush garden landscape in the year 802,701.  His machine stops outside a large sphinx-like structure.  George goes to investigate his new surroundings, absolutely sure that civilization must have survived over the centuries.

He finds them in the person of a race called the Eloi.  The eloi seem to live in an idyllic heaven, not having to work, but they are child-like.  They show no curiosity, and at one point, a girl is drowning in the river but only George has the wherewithal to jump in and save her.  His rescuee is Weena (Yvette Mimieux), but even she shows no curiosity in her situation.




The Eloi are basically unhelpful to George in trying to find out what has happened.  Frustrated, George demands an explanation and is led to a library where all the books are in such disrepair that they fall apart.  Disgusted George claims he is going back to his own time. But as it turns out, the Morlocks, a race that lives underground,  have moved his time machine inside the Sphinx and no one in the Eloi seems to have any care.

It also comes to light that the Eloi are being raised and cultivated like cattle to feed the Morlocks. It is up to George to save the round of new "livestock" the Morlocks enticed into their underground facilities, which include his new found friend, Weena.  And in the process retrieve his time machine.

As stated above, when George escapes the Morlocks he does not travel on further into the future but instead returns to his own time and is in the process of relating his adventures to the guests seen at the beginning of the film.

The film received mixed reviews upon it's release (mainly for content, not for the acting ability of it's two main stars).  It did get an Academy Award for Best Special Effects at Oscar time. (And George Pal was a wizard at special effects. Several of his previous films had garnered this prestigious award, including one for War of the Worlds (coming later in this H.G.Wells Week blog party.)




The Time Machine (2002): 

In the early part of the 21st century Wells' book got another stab at the big screen.  This time it was directed by Simon Wells, who just happened to be the great-grandson of H. G. Wells himself.  (And maybe there was some back room wheeling and dealing to get that to happen.  Although Simon had directed a few animated features this was, and so far is, his only foray into live action film.)

The connection to Wells' book is tenuous, at best, with this output.  About the only things that coincide with the original novel is that a guy does indeed create a time machine, and the main character does indeed end up in the future, eventually, at the year 802,701.  And of course the races in the future do consist of the Eloi and the Morlocks.  But the parallels deviate quite dramatically from the book after that.

The main character, Dr. Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) is a professor who spends more time doing pure research than devoting his life to making a profit from his endeavors.  His one love, aside from research, is Emma (Sienna Guillory), a woman who he is determined to make his wife.  He is going to meet her to propose.  But during the proposal they are accosted by a mugger who accidentally shoots and kills Emma.




Distraught, Alexander spends the next few years trying to develop a time machine.  The only motive and the only goal is to go back to that point in time and try to prevent the events that lead to Emma's death from happening. And, having created his machine (a triumph of technology and far more impressive than the contraption Rod Taylor's Time Traveler made in the 1960 film), Alexander proceeds back to try to prevent the death of his enamorata.




But, to his disappointment, although she is not killed by the mugger, a happenstance accident still causes her death.

So Alexander decides there must be some way to discover how to save her by traveling to the future.  He stops off first in 2030 (and even at this date 20 years after the movie, a lot of the "future" still has yet to happen, including a highly interactive AI named Vox (played by Orlando Jones) who tries to help Alexander).  In 2030 we hear a news broadcast that there are plans to blast the moon with bombs in order to create a living space for people to move and live on the moon.

But when Alexander goes forward another 7 years, the project that was only in planning stages in 2030 had devastating effects.  It destroyed the moon, and the result was that the Earth became virtually uninhabitable too.  So he progresses further into the future and through the magic of CGI we see the Earth basically transformed into a new planet. Finally, he stops the machine in 802701.

He is hurt during his landing and is rescued by Mara (Samantha Mumba) who nurses him back to health.  The race of Eloi live above ground (Literally. They live in dwellings on the face of a cliff.) 



 The Morlocks, who live underground, venture above ground periodically to capture Eloi, and on this occasion capture, among others, Mara.  

Her brother, Kalen (played, coincidentally, by Omera Mumba, Samantha's real brother) helps Alexander by leading him to the ruins of a library where he encounters, once again, Vox, who tells him how to find the underground dwelling of the Morlocks.

He is captured by the Morlocks and meets up again with Mara.  He also meets with a bigwig Morlock (Jeremy Irons).




 The Uber-Morlock, as he is called in the credits, finally tells him a fact that should have been obvious if Alexander had been the genius he was supposed to be.  The reason he can't change the past and save Emma is because if he did, then he would never have invented the time machine to try to save her, the ultimate "grandfather" paradox in new form.  (And here I will explain the grandfather paradox for those of you unfamiliar with it.  What if you created a time machine and went back in time and in the process accidentally killed your grandfather before he met your grandmother?  You would not have existed, and therefore you would not have created the time machine in the first place,)

The final minutes of the film involve Alexander fighting off the Morlocks and ultimately creating a new society. 

This movie is not nearly as cohesive as the first one, nor is it really as good.  But it is entertaining in its own right, and the special effects are good in their own right.

 As a footnote I will say that The Time Machine .did inspire another time travel movie that came from the same concept,Time After Time. I won't delve into that one here, saving it for a future review, but suffice to say H. G. Wells himself ends up chasing Jack the Ripper into the future to prevent him from committing his atrocities in another time period.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Disney in Space (and Cyberspace)






This is my entry in the 100 Years of Disney blogathon hosted by Silver Screnes.


Like just about every kid (or every American kid, at least), I grew up in an age where my first experiences with movies was Disney movies.  Movies like Bedknobs and Broomsticks for live action films, and 101 Dalmatians for cartoons were the bread and butter of my movie going experiences. I still recall seeing both of those in the theater (101 Dalmatians must have been a re-release, however since it's original premiere predates my being old enough to experience it).

For years, that was all I was allowed to go see.  There is a story somewhere else on this blog that my parents took my sister and me to see Patton and my father took such an offense to the foul language in it that he refused to allow us to go to anything rated above G afterwards, which pretty much eliminated anything BUT Disney movies. It took a huge amount of pleading to get my father to let my sister and I go see Star Wars. But we did get to that.

So I got to see a LOT of Disney movies, but by the time I was 15 I started to rebel against the strictures of limitations. It took another 10 years or so before I would even consider those cheesy happy-go-lucky movies.  But beginning in the late 70's Disney started  delving into more adult focused themes.  Not sure if The Black Hole was the first, but it was pretty close.

I was still at that age where I didn't have the autonomy to choose my own path when The Black Hole came out (it was rated PG, so it was still off limits by my father's standards, despite it being a Disney movie), but by the time Disney released Tron I had the power to choose my own entertainment.  It was years before I finally got to see The Black Hole, but Tron was one of the first in my new independent life. Nowadays Disney is not just limited to cartoons and animal movies, because some of its subsidiaries are releasing some various adult movies. (Witness what you can see under the Touchstone umbrella...)




 Tron: (1982): 

Tron was state-of-the-art back in 1982.  Although the movie still holds up well these days, 40 years down the road the graphics come off as a little dated,  But one of the memories I have is playing the Tron video game at the arcade.  




The movie (and video game) featured some astounding special effects, such as the lightcycle.  Those of you who are younger probably don't even know what an arcade is. These were prevalent across the United States and elsewhere until the rise of really good home entertainment systems.  You used to have to go to a central location where you invested quarters (sometimes, at least in my case, 10s of dollars in quarters) to play stand-up consoles featuring games like Pac-Man (which I KNOW you've heard of) and other games.  The malls (another dying place from those days) always had one place like that.  In my case it was called The Gold Mine.

The movie itself involved a man named Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a former employee of a computer company called ENCOM. 



 Flynn spends his days running a video game arcade and in his spare time trying to hack into the ENCOM computer system to find information that will help him prove that the head of ENCOM, Dillinger (David Warner) stole his ideas for several video games and used them to maneuver himself to the top of ENCOM's ladder.


As such, when Dillinger shuts down high-level access to the mainframe computer, Flynn's friends still working at ENCOM, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan) go to Flynn to warn him that Dillinger is on to him.  And so is the Master Control Program in the computer system.

The real villain in the piece is the Master Control Program (hereafter called MCP).  The MCP started out as just a glorified chess program, but somehow has been able to garner more and more power until it is essentially able to manipulate the system (and his subordinate, Dillinger, in the process).

When Flynn tries to access the information that proves that Dillinger is guilty the MCP uses some technology developed by Lora and her partner, Dumont (Barnard Hughes) to digitize Flynn and convert him to a computer program in the system. (Yeah, OK, there is a tremendous amount of suspension of disbelief required for this film).

Inside the system, Sark (who is Dillinger's representative in the computer world) is commanded by the MCP to put Flynn in the games.  The games are a way of destroying computer programs who refuse to renounce their belief in the Users. Side note: there is an underlying religious theme here.  Consider the Users to be representatives of the gods, or God, if you will. What the MCP, who represents the Devil, is trying to do is to get the computer world society to renounce their belief in the gods (God).  Any who do not are sentenced to play in the games. And defeat in the games results in de-resolution. Elimination from existence, in other words.




In the computer world Flynn teams up with Tron, a computer program written by Alan in order to defeat the MCP and free the world from it's influence.  Every character in the real world has it's representative as a computer program in the computer world, so we even get Lora and Dumont in the system.

One of the distracting parts of this film is the occasionally blooper that was left in (probably because the budget wouldn't allow re-shoots). That is when the occasional character refers to the MCP as the "MPC" And I consider it a blooper because on other occasions the same character calls it the MCP correctly, so it's not like it's a character mistake.

Anyway, the movie virtually steals many things from Star Wars. I won't go into detail of these, but if you watch you will catch them. The major one is when Sark's ship overtakes the smaller ship being piloted by Flynn and Tron and Lora.  It looks so much like the opening of Star Wars it's unavoidable.

Ultimately Tron and Flynn end up in a battle with the Emperor (I mean the MCP) and get to free the computer world from its influence.

The plot still holds up, as I said before, but the graphics seem dated.  If you can get over that, you will enjoy the story at any rate.

The Black Hole (1979):

 The movie begins with a spaceship already investigating the black hole (why waste time with a prologue of how we got to this point, when you can do it with dialogue between characters?  Kudos, Disney).

Anyway, the ship, the Palomino, which is commanded by Capt. Holland (Robert Forster), has discovered a ship that appears to be unaffected by the black hole. (It should be being drawn into the immense gravitational forces of the hole, yet is in a stationary form.)




A side note to explain exactly what a black hole is:  It is a region of space that is the product of a collapsed star that creates a hole in space and draws all objects in it's vicinity into it because of the immense gravity it generates.  In theory it can draw entire solar systems into it.  What is on the other side of the black hole can only be conjectured since nothing apparently can withstand it's force.  Therefore, the black hole of the film SHOULD draw the spaceship into its vortex. (yet it does not.).

The crew decide to take their own ship closer to investigate.  It turns out that the ship stationary near the black hole is the Cygnus I, a ship that had been sent out 20 years earlier.  The ship was supposedly recalled but never returned.  There is a connection between the crew of the Palomino and Cygnus.  It seems that one of the crew members, Dr. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux), is the daughter of a member of the crew that manned the Cygnus.

When the crew gets closer, some of their ship is damaged by the force of the black hole and they land on the Cygnus.  It seems the Cygnus is able to generate some null gravity force field which is how it is able to stay stationary despite the gravity pull of the hole.

On board, the crew encounter what appears to be the sole survivor of the crew of the Cygnus, Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximillian Schell). Along with a crew of robots that he created to help him man the ship. He informs them that Kate's father stayed behind with him, but has since died.  The rest of the crew were sent home and Reinhardt expresses surprise that the crew never made it back home.




Reinhardt agrees to help the crew get their ship repaired and get them back on their way home, but intimates there is no way he is going back with them.  What is goal for staying is a mystery.  But while the crew gathers up the tolls and supplies several of them go off to investigate on their own.  Capt. Holland, ostensibly heading back to the ship to initiate the procedures, departs the shuttle and finds, among other things, uniforms and personal effects of the supposedly departed Cygnus crew. Another crew member, Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine) also secretly goes off on his own.  Booth sees one of the robots limping which arouses his suspicions.

Meanwhile in another part of the ship, the Palomino's resident robot. Vincent (voiced by Roddy McDowell) meets B.O.B. (voiced by Slim Pickens), an early prototype of his own model who reveals interesting information as to what EXACTLY happened with the crew of the Cygnus. (And no, they didn't disappear trying to return to Earth...)

Dr, Reinhardt, as the mad genius of the piece, has a notion to try to find out what is on the other side of the black hole.  As Dr. McCrae suggests, "he walking a tightrope between genius and insanity".  Or to put it more bluntly as Booth says "I think the guy is nuts."  The only person who thinks that Reinhardt is playing with a full bag of marbles, it appears, is Dr. Durant (Anthony Perkins).

But Vincent and Kate share a connection via ESP (don't even ask what I think of that...).  Vincent shares with Kate that the Capt should return to the Palomino, where Vicent relates what he learned from B.O.B.  The crew did indeed not get away from the Cygnus.  There was a revolt over control of the ship and the crew members who didn't die were turned into, you guessed it, Reinhardt's robots.

At this point the final reel comes up and I don't want to give the final away, but it is Disney so you have to have a pretty good idea how it will all turn out.  Fortunately for me and some other people, it doesn't involve a cocker spaniel/schnauzer mutt showing up to save the day.  (That would have been ridiculous, of course, but prior to 1979, entirely something I might have expected.)

I whole heartedly recommend both of these movies to anyone out there whose intersts segue into the science-fiction realm.  There are some points that are unbelievable (like ESP) but the primitive graphics and special effects hold up rather well, even is this day of CGI.

Well, that brings us to the time to warp home. (I converted the Plymouth to hyperdrive...) Drive safely folks.