Starring: Craig Stevens, Lola Albright, Herschel Bernardi, Hope Emerson, Byron Kane
Synopsis: Peter Gunn is a suave, well-dressed private investigator with a love of cool jazz and a knack for finding trouble.
Trey: Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All is animated television movie that aired on NBC in 1982. The project was begun in 1979 following the success of Star Wars, but lead to a Saturday morning TV series, which actually aired before the movie.
This film has never been released on home video in the U.S., so far as I know, but it's available on YouTube.
Jason: I grew up on Filmation as my primary supplier of action/adventure Saturday morning cartoons. Foremost in my memories are the Tarzan and Batman series from the 70s-80s, but I also have some dim recollection of the Flash Gordon series. My memories are occluded by pre-teen rejection of "greasy kid stuff". As a result, I mostly remember viciously lampooning the reused animation elements that resulted in Batman, Tarzan, and Flash jogging identically down and to the left or down and to the right. These rotoscoped sequences looked cool, and were typically the most fluid and impressive bits of animation in the shows. But as a kid, I bristled at what could only be regarded as Filmation's repeated and unrepentant insults to my intelligence. Do they think I can't tell that when Tarzan swings on a vine he does so in precisely the same manner as when Batman does a Bat-swing on the Bat-rope?
Though many of those sequences were trotted out for Flash, I was pleasantly surprised by this production, which not only looks very good and includes many novel bits of animation previously unseen, but also embraced an ambitious agenda of visual storytelling.
Trey: I think in this era of overseas outsourcing of animation and heavy use of computers, it's easy to be derisive of the shortcuts and failings of animation with less than a feature film budget in the 80s. Filmation here shows the failings of their economical style, but also brings in some techniques borrowed from Japanese animation and even, I believe, some early computer use in addition to some accomplished rotoscoping.
Jason: I found the battling dinosaurs to be remarkable for American animation of the era.
The Beast Men's Temple of Ming sequence sold me. I was amazed at the minimal dialogue and long, entirely visual sequences. Danger felt real! Violence felt consequential!
The script by Peebles hummed along at a steady pace and seemed unusually adult, again for American animation of this vintage. And when I say adult, I mean stand by for 1930's norms visited upon impressionable children of the 80's. Eugenics comes into play, retrograde depictions of female characters (Dale Arden, in peril of a horrible marriage to Ming, disappears for a lengthy portion of the movie), and, astonishingly, Hitler! Yes, Hitler! Sorry for the spoiler, folks. Trey, help me understand!
Trey: Yes, Peeple's (who wrote the second pilot for Star Trek as well) provides a script clearly for primetime, not Saturday morning. Note the use of firearms in the fight with the dinosaurs and the flaming sword in the final duel. Overall, not only does it move along pretty well, it's fairly faithful to Raymond's original comic strip, though not as faithful as the more extended Saturday morning cartoon version. The Hitler connection is original to Peeples, so far as I know.
I enjoyed hearing Ted Cassidy as Thun. He doesn't voice him in the series. Several of the other voices are different as well: Vultan, Barin, and Ming. No disrespect to Vic Perrin here, but I miss Alan "Skeletor" Oppenheimer's villainous cackle for Ming.
Jason: My verdict: Overall, this incarnation Flash Gordon delivered constant (adequate) thrills, solid animation, well-imagined vistas, and was, against all odds, pretty entertaining.
Trey: I love the animated series from my youth, so it's hard for me to judge with objective eyes. This is only the second time I've seen the TV movie, though, so I was pretty fresh on it. I enjoyed it for the reasons you say, but I miss the more expansive storyline of the series.
Trey: Space: 1999 was a British series that ran for two seasons on ITV from 1975 to 1977. Attempts to sell the series to a U.S. network failed, so it aired in syndication starting in 1975. It was the last production by the partnership of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and was the most expensive series produced for British television up to that time.
In a series of events that will be familiar to Star Trek fans, the series was almost cancelled at the end of season (or series) one in part due to the fact no American network had picked it up. Fred Freiberger (known from season 3 of Star Trek and part of season 1 of Wild Wild West) was brought on board and the show was remolded into a bit more of a--well, Star Trek direction.
In the end, this didn't save it, and season 2 was to be the last.
Jason: In an interview Gerry Anderson made explicit mention of the tensions between the UK and American members of the production partnership, and was (unsurprisingly) put out by Freiberger's attempts to make the show more palatable for US audiences. The differences between season 1 and 2 of the series are stark. Right from the jump, the killer theme music from season one credits sequence is jettisoned in favor of an anemic re-imagining.
Trey: Well, we watched season 2 episode 1, "The Metamorph" on Freevee. The Moonbase Alpha crew comes upon a planet that has the titanium they need to make repairs to their systems. The apparently lone inhabitant of the planet Psychon, Mentor, offers to make an exchange with them, but secretly plans to trap them and use their mental energy to restore the matter-transforming computer that can repair his world.
So, I'll come clean: I chose this episode for us to watch due to the presence of Brian Blessed as Mentor.
Jason: I'm glad you did! It's a restrained performance for Blessed in this instance. He could've gone way bigger, given the outrageous events at play. He looks great, with his spray-painted faux hawk and dashing take on the traditional wizard's robes and high collar cape. Like a lot of other elements in this episode (and perhaps the series in general), the considerable visual appeal is the best thing going here.
Trey: Is it just me or is this episode (like Forbidden Planet and the Star Trek episode "Requiem for Methuselah") another loose riff on The Tempest?
Jason: I'd say that was a bullseye. Who's Caliban? Koenig?
Trey: Mentor's goons that dress like MOTU's Zodac by way of the iPod aesthetic!
But speaking of Koenig, how did you find Landau as the intrepid commander? He's a great actor, of course, but I thought he was a bit miscast here. At the very least, I feel like it would have been better to have a "Riker" to his "Picard."
Jason: Yeah, I feel the same way. It's a bummer because Landau is great as you say, but it just doesn't seem to work. His Koenig seems like a leader prone to sudden rages who would be quite a polarizing figure among his crew, by which I mean I could see a mutiny down the road.
Trey: The show definitely looks expensive. I found myself wishing Star Trek had included extensive use of models. It definitely is a "transitional form" between Lost in Space and Star Trek in the 60s and Star Wars.
Jason: It sure does look great. As a visual feast of model-making, set design, and planet-scapes, Space: 1999 delivers. Again, the disparity between seasons is notable here. While the first season is very much inspired by the austere and realistic aesthetic of Kubrick's 2001, this second season is more colorful and outlandish in design.
Trey: Other than the model-based sets and ships, though, I have to say the show seems inferior to Star Trek in just about every other way.
Jason: I think that's true, but I also think Space: 1999 is a very different animal. It is more impressionistic, less naturalistic, and despite attempts to make the characters a greater part of the show's appeal, not that interested in the characters. To me it feels pulpy in a particularly British way but with a non-rational, liminal quality perhaps only available in the post-psychedelia 1970s. It's clearly not Science Fiction in any real sense, but more an attempt at psychological fantasy with SF trappings, at least in the first season. By the second season, it's a bit more action-oriented but, if this first episode is any indication, also more bananas.
I've always admired Gerry Anderson's contributions to fantastic media, but from afar. His shows, all featuring marionettes until UFO, Space: 1999's immediate predecessor, impress with their toyetic designs and devotion of screen time to effects sequences, but I haven't yet been able to get into the Uncanny Valleys they occupy. The addition of actual human actors to the equation, unfortunately, takes this show into a weirdly Unpleasant Valley.
Trey: I believe those are super-marionettes with powers and abilities far beyond those of regular marionettes.
Jason: Yes, well, they still reside in the same Uncanny Valley. A side note: I'm curious to have a look at writer Johnny Byrne's short story contributions to the UK SF magazine Science Fantasy.
Trey: That could prove interesting. We should hunt it up!
Jason: Alright. Verdict time: I enjoyed watching this episode and am curious to dip my toe further into the series' two very distinct seasons. Will I? I don't know when!
Trey: I thought it was interesting, but I feel like it would take a lot to make me love it. Even perhaps the mild affection for the eccentric relative as I feel for Lost in Space.
Trey: The Renegades was an attempt to cash in on the success of The Warriors by bringing the youth gang concept to TV--with the confines of the well-established TV genre of the cop show. The creators looked to Patrick Swayze as the star who had established is credibility in show rolls with another failed TV effort Return of the Rebels and the film The Outsiders. ABC picked it up and the pilot movie aired on August 11, 1982, with the series to follow in March of 1983. Due to low ratings, ABC pulled the plug after 6 episodes. He watched the last one on YouTube. It's a VHS rip (complete with commercials!), presumably from the broadcast on April 8, 1983. The episode is titled "Target: Marciano" and involves an escaped murder (former drug dealer and record producer) who is out for revenge against the cop that sent him away: Lt. Marciano, who's in charge of the Renegades, It involves part of the team going undercover and taking part in a battle of the bands!
So, to start with, I'm going to say the opening of this show must be seen (it's also on Youtube) for a jolt of pure 80s directly to the brain. If you feel the urge to wear parachute pants, don't blame this blog!
Jason: A jolt is putting it mildly! It grabs you by the lapels and rubs your face in a distillation of 80s tropes so potent you'll come away reeking of its heavily applied Drakkar Noir. It could alm6st pass for a SNL parody. But it is all too real!
Trey: I know Swayze was meant to be the draw here, and he and Scoggins are the standouts among the Renegades, but they are really just a brighter shade of unmemorable. Their parts are sort of thin.
The real "stars" of this episode to me are the supporting cast and the guest stars. Kurtwood Smith plays a pretty similar character in everything but he was born a hardass police captain. He embodies this role fully. Likewise, James Luisi as Marciano, who has played cops on other shows, is like the apotheosis of vaguely ethnic veteran police detectives.
Jason: The Renegades are semi-reformed street gangsters of the fantasyland Warriors variety composed of one-dimensional stereotypes (80's token diversity in full effect) with names like Bandit, Eagle, Dancer, Dragon, and.... Tracy. Their hair is always perfect. Only the lack of masks and capes separates this crew from D-list superhero characters.
If this episode show could be saved, Smith and Luisi would be its saving grace(s)! Smith's police captain is perpetually unimpressed with Marciano's experimental team. He quickly became my personal viewpoint character.
Trey: You make a good point regarding superheroes. I've often thought the cheesy dialogue and thin, but distinct characterization of 80s action shows is very much like 80s superhero comics. A lot getting to imagine whatever line delivery you need to make it work helps comics, though. That an an unlimited budget.
Anyway, I also want to note Thom Christopher as the villainous Tony Gunn. Christopher was the badass warrior alien, Hawk, in the second season of Buck Rogers--that season's only salvation, really. Here he plays Gunn, a character more Charlie Manson than Phil Spector, with an intensity that could make Pacino's Scarface say, "you know, this guy maybe should get psychiatric help?"
Jason: Christopher is indeed suitably creepy as the ludicrous psychopath record producer/rifle lover. His character is a hair's breadth away from being a D-list Batman villain.
Trey: Like comics once again!
The band bits here really illustrate something I've long thought about the portrayal of rock/pop musicians in 80s movies and TV, namely: the production and creative staff just don't seem to get it. We're typically shown a band whose look is a mismatch of punk/New Wave, glam metal, and maybe a bit of disco, and then their songs are like bar rock or the most indistinct pop rock. The band here is no exception.
Jason: Agreed. This disconnect was quite palpable in The Renegades. I'll guess this particular show was made by people just old enough to be unaware of how out of touch they were . No actual New York City hipsters of the day were consulted.
The climactic sequence was set in an abandoned roller derby arena the villain uses to stage a spectacular show trial/execution/musical performance. What could have been a zany Batman action set piece was instead a dire and bizarre sequence, seemingly intended to replicate the imagery of then-novel music videos (years before something similar would be attempted by the similarly ill-fated Cop Rock). It was an ambitious plan that failed aggressively.
My verdict: There was potential in this show's premise, but it just didn't come together. Trey, I must admit I looked forward to the commercials. My wife, a confirmed Swayze supporter, passed out after 20 dreary minutes. Therefore it is my unpleasant duty to sentence this show to be swiftly returned to the obscurity from which it came. With the high pressure firehose of entertainment available 24/7 in today's modern world, don't waste a minute on this one. But watch that trailer!
Trey: I'm not going to praise The Renegades. There are too many options in the modern TV landscape to think about "so bad it's good." will, however, give it the benefit of contextualizing it for the modern reader, too young to remember the 80s, who might have a smartphone mishap and accidentally arrive at this blog. The network tv action show of 80s was built to deliver reliable and unchallenging entertainment to a lowest common denominator swathe of America. Compared with other shows of that kind, well, I don't think The Renegades fares too badly, though it would be far from top of the heap. Why was it so unsuccessful then even in its era? Well, I think its writing and characters (aside from some adult themes) place it more inline with more kid-appealing action shows like The A-Team. Unfortunately, it had a 9 pm timeslot, perhaps due to those adult themes, making kids unable to see it. If this episode is representative, it lacks some of the drama and more importantly sex appeal needed to succeed with the purely adult viewership.
Trey: Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion (lit. "Space Patrol – The Fantastic Adventures of the Spaceship Orion"), also know as Raumpatrouille Orion, and Space Patrol Orion, was the first German science fiction television series. Its seven episodes were broadcast by ARD from September 19 to December 10, 1966. It's since developed a bit of cult following.
In it's unspecified future, Earth has been united under one government and flying saucer type cruisers patrol Earth colonial space. Orion is one of the fast of these ships. It's commanded by Cliff McLane who gets put on a punishment patrol duty and saddled with a hard-nosed security officer due to his tendency to buck his superiors. Nevertheless, McLane and his crew are depended on in times of crisis.
We watched episode 5, "Der Kampf um die Sonne" ("The Battle for the Sun") where variations in the sun's energy output threaten the Earth's climate, so the Orion crew investigates and discovers a long forgotten, gynocritic colony is responsible.
Jason: Still reeling from the sad mediocrity of Barbary Coast, I dutifully queued up episode 5 of Space Patrol Orion. My attention was immediately arrested by the urgent horns of the propulsive theme music. I enjoyed the jazzy musical cues throughout the episode, which supported and enhanced the somewhat pulpy tone. I say somewhat because it seems to straddle the often blurred lines between pulp SF and more serious Golden Age SF. Am I crazy, Trey?
Trey: I wouldn't say you are crazy. I think (and this is likely only the first of comparisons I will make to Star Trek) it is in some ways a "purer" descendant of Star Trek's influences (Voyage of the Space Beagle, Forbidden Planet) than Star Trek is.
Jason: Well yes, the show has been called The German Star Trek for its obvious similarities, but the distinctions are interesting. Where Star Trek is commonly noted for its optimistic take on the future of humanity, Orion's future society is decidedly darker: post-colonial only in that their colonies were beaten into submission after two disastrous "Space Wars," environmental catastrophe on Earth evidently couldn't be avoided, and the Space Patrol is controlled by a panel of trigger-happy generals inclined to listen when the Central Computer recommends an apocalyptic preemptive strike to prevent their unknown adversaries from doing the same thing: "Threats may make them push the button.. And we don't know what buttons they have."
Trey: While being very pulpy and naïve in science aspects (perhaps even more so that Trek!) and simplistic in its character drama (and again, its at least less compelling in this aspect than Trek), it has an hint of realistic politics to its setting that was beyond at least what Roddenberry wanted to see in Primetime American TV.
Jason: An issue with the plot, from that SF stand point you allude to, would indeed be the hand-wavey faux science driving the story along. It was (appropriately) glossed over speedily and without any long-winded jargon-filled explanations. Just swallow it and move on! Trek isn't without this flaw, either.
Trey: True enough, though it's a matter of degrees.
Jason: I found it's dialogue snappy and enjoyable throughout, even with the vagaries of subtitling and possible losses due to translation:
"Are you from Earth?"
Trey: I would agree with the caveat that the delivery is perhaps not always compelling.
Jason: I don't know. The cast was also pretty great with solid performances all around, most notably to my mind was the portrayal of the matriarch (or at least one of the most important officials, it is a bit unclear) of Chroma by Margot Trooger, whose regal presence and gravitas make her totally believable as a planetary ruler. She gets plenty of juicy lines.
Trey: She certainly deserves mention. In its specifics, hers is a role American TV of the period wouldn't have offered. Though I don't think that it avoids the cliches Star Trek or Lost in Space would have served heaping spoonfuls of entirely!
Jason: Yes, the scenes between McClane and She are a highlight, but they are marred by McClane's puzzling reaction to the matriarchal government of Chroma. He's got women bosses already that he seems to respect! The reaction was needed I guess as a stand-in for whatever outrage such a notion would have induced in West German audiences, but there is where it falls into typical genre TV tropes. I did like:
"You're a child of the Earth!"
" A child of bad parents must free herself to gain success."
Trey: That was a great riposte on her part!
Jason: Though made on a fraction of Star Trek's budget, I thought the costumes, sets, props, and special effects really worked for the era, aided by the black and white production. Effects were employed tastefully, for story telling purposes, and get the job done.
Trey: The baggy uniforms on the Space Patrol don't work for me, but overall I think the design is pretty good, even the obvious budget constraints. So, your summation?
Jason: My verdict: My new favorite show! I will be watching all seven episodes.
Trey: I'm perhaps not as big on it as you, but I think it's good. An American remake in the 70s with a higher budget could have been really great as long as they stuck to the same sort of worldbuilding.