Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep2 "The Gladiators"

 "The Gladiators"
Airdate: September 20, 1974
Written by Art Wallace
Directed by Don McDougall
Synopsis: Burke and Virdon are faced with having to fight to the death when they are captured, and the Ape Prefect amuses himself by staging gladiator-style fights between the humans in his village.

Jason: In the opening of this episode, Urko briefly recaps the current situation to one of his soldiers, and we're shown a wall-sized painted map of the western USA which I enjoyed seeing. What horrors lie on the other side of the very clearly marked line of X's and series of skulls south of that? 

Trey: I liked that too, but I couldn't help but noticing the scale seemed rather fanciful.

Jason: Urko's orders to his minion: tell the prefects in all the nearby settlements to arrest all strangers on sight, taken alive unless they try to escape."And I expect them to try. Understood?"

What a villain! I think Mark Lenard is getting slightly more comfortable in his ape makeup.

From there we cut to the wilderness where the fugitive trio eat fruit from the future and debate their plans.

Trey: Our heroes show their heroic nature by intervening with a couple of random dudes fighting in the wilderness.

Jason: Virdon jumps right in, as if it was any of his business! Burke seems less enthusiastic at first, but before you know it he's right in there with the full menu of Astronaut Judo at his disposal. It's a no-holds-barred tag team match. 

Trey: They definitely deliver some moves worthy of James Kirk. Clearly that unorthodox fighting style was already being taught in the alternative 1980 they rocketed from.

Jason: In the frenzy of battle, I couldn't tell if stunt doubles were involved. 

Trey: The sparrers they interrupted are Tolar and Dalton played respectively by frequent 70s-80s TV heavy William Smith (I last saw him in the Buck Rogers episode "The Trebor") and a young Marc (Beastmaster) Singer.

Jason: Smith, mildly surprisingly for a man so obviously devoted to the development of his triceps, turns in a solid performance as Dalton's gladiator father. The role requires Tolar to be the living embodiment of toxic masculinity. He repeatedly beats the crap out of his son - a gladiator in training - the only way to ensure Dalton's grim future on the Planet of Apes!

Anyway. the melee is broken up by the arrival of an ape on horseback, forcing our heroes to flee. To their horror, the ape immediately finds the flight data disk Burke dropped during the fight. Burke's convinced that the information encoded on the disk might somehow provide a means to return to the past and will risk anything to retrieve it, despite the protests of Galen and Virdon. Plot device detected!

Trey: Yes, well, said device is in the hands of Prefect Barlow now. He's an interesting character to me. I suspect he read more positively in 1974 than in 2023. Clearly, he's meant to be "one of the good ones." He treats the humans rather benignly, and rather paternalistically. And in the end, he can change for the better!  But he's still an uncritical participant in the system of ape supremacy--and he forces or at the very least strongly encourages and facilitates death sports as a means of social control over the human population. Compared to Urko he's a good guy, but it's really only his means that vary, not his ends.

Jason: Death sports as a means of keeping human aggression at bay seem to be working for his village like a charm. He's slowly cracking the code on human nature, and it's not good news! His pronouncements to Galen on the subject are enjoyably bleak. 

Trey: I think part of his charm is his portrayal by John Hoyt. Hoyt's been in a lot of stuff, but I remember him most as "Bones" Boyce, the doctor and bartender on the Enterprise in the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage." 

Jason: It is a charming performance. He gets most of the interesting lines, almost all of them dissing humans directly or damning with faint praise. 

Trey: It certainly for most the episode! So, my verdict on Episode 2: This is a very cliched episode from a classic genre tv standpoints. How many gladiatorial arenas have we seen? How many times have we heard killing isn't the answer? Still, the classics work, I guess.

Jason: They get the job done, at least.

Trey: Unlike Urko's minions! But what elevate this a bit, I think, is the need to deal with the fact that the world is the way it is because of human violence. In the face of that truth, Dalton's pacifist turn seems perhaps more necessary, and more believable.

Also, I liked the honesty of Virdon's reply when Barlow asks him if the ancient world was better. Also he can say, with a resigned expression on his face is: "it was different."

Jason: Differently horrible! I agree that they trotted out one seen-it-before situation after another, but hey, this time we're seeing it with apes. For all of its faults, I'm still enjoying the show. Maybe not so much as an immersive work of speculative fiction, but rather as an artifact of another time's mass media entertainment, far enough removed from today to provide many meta layers of interest. Hopefully enough to sustain me for twelve more episodes!

Trey: We'll just have to find out!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

DC Comics in the 80s: July 1981 (part 2)

Over on my blog, I've been reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! In this installment, I looked at some of the comics at newsstands around April 23, 1981. 

Detective Comics #504: Conway and Newton present "The Joker's Rumpus Room Revenge." The Joker has escaped from prison and has gotten a number of deadly toys from a toymaker to set a trap for Batman. The Dark Knight predictably, overcomes the Joker's machinations. 

The backup is a Tales of Gotham City story by Kupperberg and Delbo/Giella where Gordon finds out the son of an old friend is actually a dirty cop. I like that this story goes against the mold, because a stern talking to by Gordon doesn't turn the kid around, instead he tries to run out on Gordon and dies of his own incompetence.

New Adventures of Superboy #19: Bates and Schaffenberger reveal that, before adopting Kal-El, the Kents took in a juvenile delinquent, Cory Renwald, and attempted to reformed him into a model citizen. They never knew if they succeeded, but years later, Renwald and 2 Soviet agents cross paths with Clark and Jonathan on a camping trip--and Renwald shoots them both with a poison dart. All is not as it seems, of course, as Cory is revealed to be a U.S. agent in deep cover pretending to work for the Russians. He switched out the darts so Jonathan was only sleeping. Superboy nabs the spies. The Kents find out they did right with the kid in the end. The Rozakis/Calnan Superbaby backup is Easter themed and features young Clark naively thwarting jewel thieves at a Easter egg hunt.

Sgt. Rock #354: Kanigher and Redondo give the first Sgt. Rock story I've read with a hint of the supernatural. Something is stalking both U.S. and German troops as both sides try to get to a noble in an isolated castle. Was he a werewolf? We never find out. The next story is a grotty, post-apocalyptic yarn by Tim Truman where the last human is killed by a mutant sniper leaving the earth to the robot soldiers and the mutants. 

There's an uncredited short about the introduction of the flamethrower, then Kanigher and Mandrake serve up a short about the merciless tick of the watch and death in the trenches of World War I. In another uncredited story, a G.I. in Vietnam loses his life and his Stones tape to the VC as he writes a letter to his mother. The "Men of Easy" feature has Tag-A-Long Thomas learning the value of sticking close to Rock.

Super Friends #46: The team the Justice League up with the Global Guardians to free villains captured by the mysterious Conqueror continues. When that's done they confront the Conqueror himself and defeat him with the help of Dr. Mist.

The Seraph backup by Oksner has the Israeli hero taking on the ghost of a Roman soldier at the site of Masada.

Superman Family #208: Harris gives the title a shake-up by having Linda quit the New Athens Experimental School after getting insulted by her boss and head of to New York City to become a soap opera actress. Supergirl precedes her to New York to establish her presence so as not to have them both arriving at the same time. She foils an Middle Eastern coded terrorist. Bridwell and Schaffenberger have Clark and Lois on a plane to Europe that gets hijacked to Zrfff by the Mr. Mxyztplk of Earth-Two. The imp lets it slip he can't stand anything that reminds him of Superman, so Supes causes images of himself to appear everywhere and drive Mxyztplk crazy until he sends everyone home.

In the Private Life of Clark Kent story, we find out Edge is a big fan of a 50s sci-fi show and was a collector of memorabilia as a kid (and also that he anglicized his name and is probably Jewish). Edge tries to by a branded clock he never got in his childhood, but an old childhood friend (and rival) tries to steal it. In a another somewhat humorous Lois Lane story by Conway and Oksner, Lois stumbles upon what she thinks is "another Abscam" but it turns out to be an FBI sting against some Middle Eastern types, that Lois almost spoils. Conway and Tuska have Jimmy stumbling unto an actual story when he tries to impress Edge's niece and her college friends after she denigrates his skills as a reporter.

Unexpected #211: Barr and von Eedon/Breeding start a new Johnny Peril storyline where Johnny returns to his office and finds a mysterious woman going through his mail, who pretty much disappears before his eyes. He's hired to guard a necklace called The Angel's Smile--and he sees a painting of a 19th century actress that's the spitting image of the woman he saw earlier. That night thieves with a knockout gas try to steal the necklace, but Johnny is ready. What he isn't ready for his the reappearance of the woman, who steals the necklace and his gun, shoots the guy who hired him, then disappears.

The other stories this issue are less interesting. Wessler and Sparling/Colletta have a Southern fried crime boss failing to keep a promise to Death to not kill anyone. Drake and Mortimer/DeMulder have a son run afoul of a real stickler of a funeral home owner who refuses to bury the man's parents side by side because his mother committed suicide, so the father rises from the grave to get revenge. Finally, Kashdan and Nicholas/Colletta give us the well worn trope of a spaceship crew being used as lab rats by advanced aliens.

Green Lantern #142: Wolfman's and Staton's Omega Men introduction continues. Jordan and Ferris are captured by the Omega Men, which gives Kalista time to provide the secret origin of the Omega Men. Their escape from the Citadel was secured by the sacrifice of Lambien, a god-like energy being. They made it to Earth with the Citadel on their heels. Jordan convinces them to let him help, just as the Citadel attacks.

In the Adam Strange backup by Sutton and Rodriquez, Strange escapes his ice cage in the city of Kryys and saves Alanna. When he once again refuses to unite with Alva Xar, the dictator from the past turns Alanna into crystal and shatters her, then sends and enraged Strange back to Earth with an Anti-Zeta-Beam. It's a shame these backups have never been collected, so as I know.

Warlord #47:  Read more about it here. The OMAC backup has our hero saving the city of Marseille from a runaway giant protozoa. I'm not even completely sure why that's happening to be honest, and I think this arc his finished, so I have no desire to refresh myself on earlier installments.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Back to The Planet of the Apes: ep1 "Escape from Tomorrow"

 "Escape from Tomorrow"
Airdate: September 13, 1974
Written by Art Wallace
Directed by Don Weis
Synopsis: Two astronauts survive a crash-landing on a planet where intelligent apes rule over humans. They find that their very existence challenges the ape orthodoxy and puts their lives in danger. 

Jason: So, I read the original pilot script was by Rod Serling. Was it deemed too dark and challenging for TV? Was his treatment anathema for those hopeful of product tie-ins, like toy lines and lunchboxes?

Trey: They did bring in Ruby and Spears, so your theory may have some merit. But to first episode we got: First off, I really like the opening credits sequence, particularly the theme music composed by Lalo Schifrin.

Jason: I enjoyed the theme music especially.  The creepy, disruptive violins in the first seconds set a tone of horror and confusion entirely appropriate to the franchise. It's no Mission Impossible theme (one of Schifrin's greatest hits) but it evokes mood and braces the viewer for surreal weirdness to come. Can this episode live up to its opening montage?

Trey: It would be hard! And so, here's character actor Royal Dano looking like an aging hippie. He's perhaps best known as the voice of animatronic Lincoln in the "Hall of Presidents" at DisneyWorld. Dano, his voice, and style of dress and the terrain really give this a Western vibe--much more than the original films had.

Jason: Dano looks like an aging hippie living in an ancient fallout shelter who still finds time in his off-camera moments to maintain a meticulously close shave throughout his appearances. Hygiene practices on the POTA will be on my mind from this point forward! 

Trey: That sounds like a threat!

Jason: We'll see. The Western vibe you mentioned, and the relentless earth tones keep things grounded, maybe too grounded! At least they had a nice full size prop of the crashed spaceship to remind us of the far-future setting. 

Trey: Same one from Beneath the Planet of the Apes, I think. It looks a bit small for an interstellar craft here, but we'll chalk that up to advanced technology. 

We get a nice establishing shot of the ape city and find that Central City (in what was apparently once California) has a Dr. Zaius just like Ape City on the East Coast of the first film. Maybe it's just a common name?

Jason: Possibly! Certainly not just to keep things simple for the presumed audience...

Trey: I guess that might also be the reason for casting Roddy McDowell. He was in all the ape films, and he's here as a new character, Galen.

Jason: He turns in a fine performance, as expected. I also thought the astronaut leads, who I will refrain from calling Starsky and Hutch, handled their roles creditably. 

Trey: Ha! I thought about the Starksy and Hutch resemblance as well. Same types. But you know, this show predates Starsky & Hutch!

Jason: So Starsky and Hutch are really Virdon and Burke types.

Trey: Sounds like the name of a law firm. But anyway, let's talk about our antagonist. The astronauts' Javert, General Urko. He's played by Mark "Sarek" Lenard. Apparently, the character's name was originally going to be "Ursus" like the similarly garbed military leader in BtPotA, but it has changed to "Urso" by the time of Lenard's audition. Lenard had trouble saying the name through the makeup so it became "Urko."

Jason: It feels like his portrayal here is still a work in progress. Urko's staccato speech is only rarely less than a commanding shout, but I have faith in Lenard's professionalism to bring some subtlety to the role as the series wears on.   

Trey: We are told "more than 10 years ago, another such ship landed." Interesting that astronauts keep landing in the future. 

Jason: A disturbing trend, for sure! 

Trey: I don't know how ANSA keeps their funding, losing so many astronauts. Surely there were Congressional hearings.

Also, time for a series continuity nitpick: The image in the book of a city (New York, maybe) is "2503" violates the timeline of the series as established in the films where a nuclear war destroyed it in the early 21st century.

Jason: Viewers like me, many of whom have only seen the first movie in a pre-VCR age, can't have been overly concerned with ape continuity. 

Trey: I'm glad we live in a more enlightened age! Anyway, there's a lot more business that goes on, but my verdict on this episode...

Jason: Yes, let's have it!

Trey: My verdict: It's hard to put oneself in the mindset of seeing this on TV in 1974, but from my 2023 vantage, it's a middling start, at best. The characters (both protagonists and antagonists) get well introduced, and Galen's journey to rebel is credible, but there's just too much classic TV capture, sneak, run. It feels like a few "mini-episodes" jammed together. Still, good cast and production design.

Jason: I think I liked it more than you. I enjoyed the episode, and thought it was successful in resetting the scenario of the first film for a fresh start...but yeah, it's 70's TV. My expectations were set so low, they would have had to work hard to undershoot them. I had fun! Were I not constrained by the format of this blog series, I would have binged on--at least for another episode. 

Trey: That's the right attitude! Like Burke and Virdon, we've got to keep searching just over the next horizon!

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes

When Jim and I finished our rewatch of the Wild, Wild West, we discussed doing a rewatch of another series and possibly bringing on another commentor. We never got around to doing that, but I've decided to move ahead with Jim's suggestion, The Planet of the Apes, and adding the other commentor we had discussed, Jason Sholtis, rpg-writer and one of the four cohosts of our Bronze Age Book Club podcast.

After the success of the first three Apes films on TV, CBS greenlit a series. It was to be developed by writers Art Wallace and Anthony Wilson, but they were aided by story consultants Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, who I'm sure you've heard of.

The writers opted for a move away from the pessimism and social commentary of the films in favor of action and drama, with harried heroes and a problem of the week like The Fugitive or the later Incredible Hulk series. 

CBS ordered 14 episodes of Planet of the Apes to be produced. The series was filmed for the most part on location at the 20th Century Fox Movie Ranch (what is now Malibu Creek State Park) where the original film had been shot as well as the M*A*S*H TV show, with a budget of about $250,000 for each episode.

The series aired in the U.S. from September 13 to December 20, 1974. It was canceled after half a season due to poor ratings, at least in part attributable to it being placed up against NBC's Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man

In 1980, ten episodes of the series were edited into five made-for-television movies for syndication. I saw some of these a few years later when they were aired on WGN. They would periodically have an "Ape Week" and air some of the films and some of these tv movies.

Trey: Jason, when did you first encounter the series?

Jason: I was a very young kid when the show aired, so I think it's most likely I saw one of the 1980 TV movies during my early adolescence. I think! It's a hazy memory.

I do recall that my impression of it at the time was far from favorable, possibly because it was on the local monster movie show in lieu of Godzilla vs. King Kong (the media ape of my preference) or some other, more spectacular, SciFi classic. 

Trey: That's a disappointment I can understand! Well, what insights do you hope to glean from this watching?

Jason: I'm going into this with an open mind, my interest in the series piqued by a recent viewing of a documentary called Making Apes, an appreciation of the special makeup artists who created the practical effects for the films and TV show, which I found unexpectedly fascinating. I'm curious as to what degree the dark, apocalyptic tone of the films was altered to suit television audiences of the 1970s. Will it be a kid's show about the end of the world?

What about you, Trey? I gather this isn't your first viewing of the series. Anything you will be looking out for on a re-watch?

Trey: I haven't seen the entire series ever, I don't think. Though I do own it on DVD, so I have no excuse. I'm sort of interested in how they develop this world. What will the films tell us about ape and human society that might add to or be different from the films? Also, how "classic TV" formulaic is it going to be? It was interesting with WWW picking out the episode "types" we had seen in numerous action/adventure shows of the era.

And so, we're off the episode one!

Jason: Tune in next week.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

DC Comics in the 80s: July 1981

Over on my blog, I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! I figured it might appeal to Jim's audience as well.  In this installment, I looked at some of the comics at newsstands on the week of April 9, 1981. 

Batman #337: Conway/Thomas and Garcia-Lopez/Mitchell present a new version of that classic tale: A scientist exploring the Himalayans is rescued by a gallant, if hirsute Yeti. Himalayan nights are cold, well, nine months, later, a sort of abominable snowman is born. That's really the villain's origin in this issue. He's is a thief with ice and cold powers, stealing to support his need to travel to really cold climes much of the year to support his weird biology. Did I say Conway was better on Batman? Perhaps I spoke too soon! I will say this story reads better than it thumbnails due to the great art by Garcia-Lopez. 

The backup is a Robin solo story where he visits the clown he last saw in the DC Comics Presents story a few months back (continuity!). Deadman's brother Cleveland Brand also works here (more continuity!). Anyway, Robin gets a job in the circus, and it appears his clown friend has committed a murder.

DC Comics Presents #35: Pasko and Swan deliver the unlikely team-up of Superman and Man-Bat. This one sort of follows up the Brave and Bold story from months back, as Man-Bat is still looking for a cure for his daughter's insomnia. He goes to STAR Labs and stumbles upon a theft of sonic wave device by Atomic Skull and his Skull cronies. Superman's powers get hobbled for much of this issue to give Man-Bat more to do. It turns out Atomic Skull wants to make his love interest permanently human because she's an evolved panther! Anyway, Man-Bat's daughter gets the sonic therapy she needs.

The backup by Teffenbacher and Kane is a charming "Whatever Happened to.." staring Rex the Wonder Dog. Rex teams up with his biggest fan, Detective Chimp, and the two beat some bad guys and accidentally discover the fountain of youth in Florida, so they get stay eternally young.

Flash #290: This picks up from last issue, with the Flash in possession of Shade's cane (which is hiding Shade) and on the case of the weird color leaching effect occurring in Central City. His "dad," meanwhile is still acting creepy and thinking ominously about Flash's death. The Rainbow Raider executes his plan before Flash can stop him, and now is able to shoot color beams from his eyes with various powers, but the with the Shade as his temporary ally, Flash prevails. At the end of the issue, we see a guy wrapped in bandages like a mummy in a hospital who the captions tell us is named "Barry Allen."

The Firestorm backup has Firestorm taking the time to interact with the little guy. In this case, some two-bit criminals that wind up stealing some toxic waste accidentally. The strong placement of this story in New York City through various details seems like Conway was trying to emphasize the realness of this locale versus DC's fictional cities.

Ghosts #102: Gill and DeZuniga present the story of a serial wife murder whose former victims' ghosts get their revenge by causing him to be burned alive in the crematorium with his last victim. O'Flynn and Estrada present ghostly revenge by sports car, as a father-in-law brings a reckoning to his murderous son-in-law. 

The Dr. 13 story by Kupperberg and Bender/Rodriquez has Thirteen's team (which now includes Mad Dog from last issue) busting a ghost in Chicago's Stillman Museum of art. The ghost isn't a ghost of course, but a thief using a fancy alarm to cause pain through high frequency sound.

G.I. Combat #231: Kanigher's first Haunted Tank story here is mildly amusing, which is something I guess. The Tank is supposed to secure a cache of Nazi loot to fund the Maquis so they will take out a Luftwaffe radar tower that endangers an allied attack, but a fight with a German tank ensures most of the money goes up in flames. Stuart manages to save a $10,000 bill, which they proceed to use to try to pay various French townsfolk they encounter. None of them can change it, so Stuart gives them an IOU assuring them the U.S. government is worth it, which none of the townsfolk believe. In the end, the radar tower goes down, and the crew has to burn that 10K bill to warm out their sluggish oil and get the tank moving again. The second story has the crew doing a Trojan Horse gambit when their tank is "salvaged" by some bandits in North Africa. 

The other stories include the typical gritty O.S.S. tale with a brainwashed agent sent to kill Control--only he isn't as brainwashed as he appears. Then there's a story set in Malaysia in WW2 by Newman and Henson where a native charm helps a British agent complete a mission. What stands out about this story to me is how its point should have been that the agent never would have gotten anywhere without the aid of various native peoples he comes across. The last story by Haney and Landgraf/Simmons is about a young soldier who goes soft on a captured German and doesn't execute him, only to have the guy come back with a squad and try to kill him and his friends. A luger he stashed away saves the day.

Jonah Hex #50: Fleisher and Ayers/DeZuniga set this one October (because Jonah's birthday on November 1st) is a plot point, as Jonah plans to go out on a hunting expedition to get his growing family meat for the winter. Things don't go as easy as he planned. He accidentally rescues a young woman who has been captive of an Indian tribe (and who is dressed slightly better than some sort of "sexy Native American costume" but not enough better.) and has to fight a bear while taking her to safety. All that done, he makes it home with bear steaks to celebrate his birthday with his wife.


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