Monday, November 30, 2009

SPACE: 1999 Comics by Cuti & Staton

The first two issues of Charlton Comics' Space: 1999 series, based on the 1976-77 syndicated television show, were drawn by my pal and collaborator, Joe Staton, and written by Nicola Cuti, who was on staff at the Derby, CT publisher - and was/is a tremendous fan of space opera.

The first issue featured an abbreviated adaptation of the show's pilot episode "Breakaway," called "Moonless Night." Cuti and Staton manage to strip down the TV episode to fit the comic book format while still maintaining the suspense and most important action. Issue #2 is an original story, "Survival," which actually foreshadows author Barry Longyear's "Enemy Mine" (the basis of the 1985 Dennis Quaid/Louis Gossett film), as it has Commander Koenig and a hostile alien both stranded on a barren planet where they are forced to work together - and trust each other - in order to survive. Cuti's scripts are fast-paced and the characters are pretty much in character. Staton's art is (as always) cartoony, but appealing. His Eagles are a bit too rounded for my tastes, but overall he does a good job of capturing the 1999 universe.

Both issues are graced with marvelous watercolor cover paintings by Staton. Issue #1 features very nice likenesses of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, while #2 is an effective action shot set against a blazing, red alien sky.

I'm pretty sure that Space: 1999 was the comic that made me a Staton fan, even though he only provided the art on the first two issues. John Byrne took over after that. At twelve, I was a huge fan of the show (still am) and I read and re-read my original copies of these issues until they fell apart. I think that helped me recognize Joe's name and style, so that when I discovered his work on E-Man (also in partnership with Cuti) and the 70's Justice Society and Green Lantern books from DC, I knew who he was.

Charlton's comic book of Space: 1999 ran a total of seven issues. I'll cover the later, John Byrne issues and it's black & white companion magazine (8 issues) in future posts.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Space Babe: Linda Harrison

Linda Harrison as the lovely Nova in the first two Planet of the Apes films. Though technically not a "Space Babe," she's definitely one of the few things in the Apes future worth living and fighting for.

I spent all day on Friday watching the five original Apes theatrical features and was once again struck by Miss Harrison's natural beauty and mute charisma. She may have got the part because she was producer Richard Zanuck's girlfriend (and later, wife), but she filled the role of the future's most lovely savage quite capably in both The Planet of the Apes and its immediate sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Life Day! (More or Less)

"If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it."
- George Lucas

Monday, November 23, 2009

UFO (1970) Movie Poster Art

As with Battlestar Galactica and other science fiction shows, the home video boom of the Eighties led to various TV episodes being repackaged and distributed on VHS and syndicated to independent television stations as feature films. Gerry Anderson's groundbreaking live-action sci-fi series UFO was among those programs; in 1980 two episodes were edited together and released as Invasion: UFO. The art above was created for that release.

Earlier than that, though, in the 70s, several compilation features were derived from the series and released in Italy. The art above was used to promote one of these movies, UFO Prendeteli Vivi.

I don't know who the artists were who painted these illustrations, but as a fan of the series, it's fun seeing this artwork

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Although Star Wars was a HUGE part of my childhood fascination with space opera and science fiction adventure, I probably won't be posting a lot about it. The one thing the internet has more of than porn is Star Wars. Besides, these days, the Star Wars universe is vast, with hundreds - maybe thousands - of books, comics, video games, etc. I long ago lost any ability or interest in trying to keep up with all.

Still, back in the day, there wasn't a lot of new Star Wars stuff to enjoy if you were one of those first-generation fans - there were the Marvel comic books, Kenner toys, and Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster. And before that - the legendary (and now officially disavowed) Star Wars Holiday Special.

A two-hour mix of wookiee domesticity, odd comedy sketches, strange musical numbers and stock footage, the Holiday Special aired on CBS television on November 17, 1978. Still, it was new Star Wars, and extremely exciting at the time.

It was, to be honest, pretty awful. But one bright spot in the otherwise ill-conceived television spectacular (well, aside from Carrie Fisher's off-key singing) was this 9-minute animated adventure from Canada's Nelvana Studio (Rock And Rule). With bizarre-yet-appealing character designs, wonky animation, the original cast providing voices, and the first-ever appearance of bounty hunter Boba Fett, the cartoon is an offbeat gem.


ARK II (1976)

Even as a kid, I thought that Ark II was a surprisingly bleak and grim premise for a Saturday morning children’s television series.

Set in the 25th Century, after the world has been devastated by pollution and war, three multi-cultural young scientists (Terry Lester, Jean Marie Hon, and Jose Flores) and their talking chimp, Adam, roam the post-Apocalyptic wasteland in a super-advanced RV, bringing the benefits of science and good morals to the primitive remnants of humanity. That’s right – it’s Damnation Alley for adolescents!

Surprisingly, the show holds up pretty well. Despite the low budget, the production values are quite good, and the Ark and its accessories are pretty impressive gadgets, even today. Probably the most impressive gadget – besides the Ark itself – was a genuine Bell jetpack. Filmation secured the services of a jet-pack and pilot for an afternoon, dressed the guy up like Terry Lester, and shot as much footage of him zooming around as possible, footage they later reused repeatedly throughout the series. Still – it was cool and undeniably real, instead of an unconvincing bluescreen or rear-projection effect.

Shot on location at the old Fox Ranch, the producers managed to evoke a fairly convincing post-Apocalyptic world, even using some decrepit sets left over from the original Planet Of the Apes features! And, as I mentioned in my Space Academy review, Bill Malone’s Robby the Robot guest starred in an episode, which is always a plus for me. The earnest young cast manages to play their underwritten roles with conviction, and, thankfully, the chatty chimpanzee (voiced by frugal Filmation head Lou Schiemer) is never all that annoying.

Scripts range from quite good to insultingly bad, but are usually somewhere in the middle, and despite the grim setting, the stories all offer hope and a solid moral lesson. Fortunately, these "lessons" are not quite as heavy handed as in later Filmation shows, and are delivered without the usual sledgehammer tactics. Guest stars include Jonathan Harris, Malachi Throne, Geoffrey Lewis, Jim Backus and a teenaged Helen Hunt.

Like the other Filmation live-action sci-fi kidvid series Space Academy and Jason of Star Command, Ark II was released a few years ago on DVD by BCI. That original set is out of print – and BCI is out of business – but just before the company closed shop, it released all three series in one box set. Both editions are still available if you look around for them.

The Ark II set contains all 15 episodes on 4 discs. Unfortunately, the transfers are not very impressive. Presented in their original full-screen TV aspect ratio, the source material, originally shot on inexpensive 16mm film stock, is faded and grainy, although relatively free of damage or debris. Still, considering that the show is nearly 30 years old, and was probably shot on a budget of $100 bucks an episode, we’re probably lucky the episodes look as good as they do.

As with the company’s other Filmation releases, Ark II – The Complete Series comes with an bunch of bonus features, including audio commentaries on two episodes, a full-length "Making Of" documentary, several photo and art galleries, and all 15 scripts, plus the series bible, on DVD-ROM.

Ultimately, Ark II is good kid’s show with a still-timely environmental message and a relatively decent example of 70’s TV sci-fi, and I really enjoyed watching these episodes again. If it’s a fond memory from your childhood, you may want to pick it up, despite the less-than-reference-quality transfers.

Space Babe: Dorothy Stratten

Dorothy Stratten as the titular character from Galaxina. Since I wrote about the sci-fi spoof earlier this week, it seemed appropriate to spotlight its late star, the lovely Dorothy Stratten, as this week's "Space Babe." In addition to her role in the 1980 film, she also appeared on an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as a futuristic beauty queen.

Stratten was Playboy magazine's "Playmate of the Year" for 1980, and was just starting a career as a film actress when she was tragically murdered by her estranged husband shortly before the release of Galaxina. The story of her life and death was actually filmed twice, once as a TV movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis, and as a theatrical film starring Muriel Hemingway.

Dorothy Stratten Tribute site.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Back in 1978, someone at either Universal or ABC actually had the smart idea of commissioning renowned fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta to paint three pieces to be used in promoting their expensive new science fantasy epic, Battlestar Galactica. These three paintings were used as the basis for TV Guide ads promoting the first three episodes ("Saga of A Star World," "Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 1," and "Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 2."), although they were subsequently used on book covers, etc.

What I love about these pieces - even beyond the fact that they exist at all - is how Frazetta interpreted the universe of Galactica through his own sensibilities and style. Clearly, very little in these paintings accurately reflect the cast or production design of the actual series, yet, to me anyway, they capture the epic scale that Glen Larson and his crew were trying so hard to accomplish on their television budget.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

STAR TREK (1973)

The new Star Trek movie came out on DVD and Blu-Ray yesterday, and that's cool, and all. I like it fine, but it's not the real Star Trek. Actually, to me, The Original Series really isn't, either. The 1973 Saturday morning cartoon version of Star Trek was probably the very first Trek I ever saw, and that's why it'll always be the real Trek for me. I was eight years old, and I don't believe I ever missed an episode.

Not only did this show spur a voracious appetite for more Star Trek (further fed by James Blish and Alan Dean Foster Trek prose adaptations in paperback, Gold Key comics and the Christmas gift of Bjo Trimble's Trek Concordance long before I ever saw the original live-action series), but it ignited a general fascination for spacebound science fiction and a life-long love of Filmation cartoons as well.

You know, I still really dig this theme music....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I first read about the movie Galaxina – as with many others – in Starlog magazine when I was a teen, and ended up waiting 26 years to actually see it. The movie is known (by those who know of it at all) as being one of the very few film vehicles for actress Dorothy R. Stratten, the lovely Playboy Playmate and Bogdanovich protégé who was murdered by her husband shortly before the movie was released.

Unfortunately, Galaxina is terrible (even by my arguably undemanding standards); a remarkably unfunny comedy from William Sachs, the director of The Incredible Melting Man (another movie I only know about from old Starlogs) and good old Crown International Pictures.

Stratten portrays the title character, the shapely android pilot of the intergalactic police cruiser Infinity. While she’s both beautiful and competent at her job, the rest of the crew are neither. Captain Cornelius Butt (former Doritos pitchman Avery Schreiber, Caveman) is an idiot, and his officers Thor (Stephan Macht, The Monster Squad) and Buzz (J.D. Hinton) are almost as bad. But Galaxina and Thor nonetheless have feelings for one another, feelings they cannot act upon, because physical contact causes the android to short circuit. After a visit to an alien brothel, the crew of the Infinity is assigned to find a magical artifact, the Blue Star, and keep it out of the hands of the resident Darth Vader clone.

While there’s some potential in here, it’s almost completely squandered by director Sachs, who has no apparent sense of comedy timing whatsoever. The production values are low, the characters and humor are crude, the gags are cliché, and while Stratten is undeniably beautiful to look at, her role as a robot seems to stretch her limited emoting abilities. There are a couple of decent alien designs by Chris Walas (in particular, the "Rock Biter"), some of the spaceship sets are kinda cool, and there are a few jokes that almost work, but overall, the film remains notable only for its association with its tragic leading lady.

BCI’s classy 25th Anniversary Special Edition DVD from a few years ago treats the film like a comedy masterpiece, however, with a sharp, clean 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. There’s also a boatload of bonus features. There’s a commentary track by director Sachs and actor Stephen Macht (God love ‘em, they actually think this movie is funny!), another audio interview with Sachs, additional footage from the international version, the theatrical trailer, and four still galleries. DVD ROM features include the original script and shooting script, as well as pdf reprints of the above-mentioned Starlog articles. Finally, there’s a 6-page booklet with stills and a biography of Stratten.

Once again, we’ve got a bad movie in a fantastic DVD package. Recommended only for people interested in the late Dorothy Stratten… or fans of Avery Schreiber. If there are any.

• TRIVIA: Dorothy Stratten also appeared in the "Cruise Ship to the Stars" episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century the year before as "Miss Cosmos, the most genetically perfect woman in the universe."

Check out this 1980 Galaxina TV Spot:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Space Babe: Heather Menzies

Heather Menzies as Jessica 6 on TV's Logan's Run. Her adventures on the show were strictly Earthbound, but lovely Heather was one of my favorite Space Babes of the 70s. I had trouble actually finding a good, sexy still of Heather as Jessica online, but she was really a very unique beauty and a very appealing heroine - with truly great legs.

She was a child actress who appeared in as a Van Trapp kid in The Sound of Music, and as a young woman, she was a popular TV actress who also starred in a couple of B-movie genre films like Piranha and Sssssss. To me, though, she'll always be Jessica 6 on the short-lived television version of Logan's Run. Of course, part of my affection for Heather may because around the same time she appeared on Logan's Run, I happened to get a look at the pictorial she did for Playboy...

Here's a link to her website.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

SPACE: 1999 - Final Message From Moonbase Alpha

Ever wonder what happened to the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha, once we stopped receiving transmissions of their adventures?

Well, back in 1999, regular series writer Johnny Byrne and cast member Zienia Merton (Sandra), managed to get this final message out to reassure fans that the Alphans... well, watch it for yourself.

Monday, November 9, 2009

70s Sci-Fi Obscurities

Although it sometimes seems like every cult show or film is available on DVD (Genesis II, Planet Earth, The Shape of Things To Come, Galaxina!?), for the really obsessive 70s sci-fi buff, there are yet a few obscurities that are still unavailable on disc. In fact, most of them have never been released on home video in any format. This includes genre television shows like Project: UFO and Logan's Run, and my two personal holy grails: the Canadian flying saucer epic Starship Invasions, starring Robert Vaughn and Christopher Lee, and Toei Studios' Message From Space, starring Vic Morrow and Sonny Chiba.

I saw Starship Invasions on network television in the late 70s, and actually went to see Message from Space at the old Waterville, Maine Cinema Center (it's a church now). Starship seems to have all but disappeared from this reality (though YouTube user CyprusCorners has a retitled version uploaded - along with lots of other genre treasures), while Message did run at least a few times on cable's Starz Action movie channel earlier in this decade.

I keep hoping that some adventurous DVD label will release these films on disc in their proper aspect ratios and digitally remastered... but considering just how comparatively obscure these titles are, I'm thinking it's unlikely. Sure, there are bootlegs and "gray market" versions floating around, but aside from being expensive, the quality is usually awful.

Is there some forgotten film from the era that you wish was available on DVD? Let me know in the comments. Who knows who might be reading this blog?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Space babe: Caroline Munro

Caroline Munro as Stella Star in 1978's Starcrash. Kicking off what is intended to be a weekly feature here at Space: 1970, showcasing the most beautiful women of the era's science fiction and fantasy productions, is the stunning Caroline Munro as the sexy space smuggler in Luigi Cozzi's Seventies Spaghetti space opera epic.

The lovely Miss Munro was the cinema's perfect pulp adventure heroine, with memorable turns in Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and as Dia The Beautiful (and she certainly was!) in Amicus' enjoyably absurd adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' At The Earth's Core.

Visit her official webpage.

Coolest Toy Ever - Mattel SPACE: 1999 Eagle 1

On Christmas morning 1976, I received one of the greatest gifts of my entire childhood. Better even than my Star Trek and Planet of The Apes Mego figures. It was Mattel's two-foot long Eagle Transporter playset from Space: 1999.

This thing was a monster and came with small action figures of Moonbase Alpha's John Koenig, Helena Russell and Victor Bergman in their bright orange space suits. There were also tiny accessories like little laser guns, helmets and other bits of exploratory equipment. The cockpit opened and could hold two figures, and the passenger compartment was large enough to reach in and move them around. There was even a hatch in the bottom with a working winch!

The nose section and red engine section were detachable and could even be joined together to make a small reconnaissance craft. It was, without a doubt, the coolest spaceship toy ever.

Sadly, this is not a photo of my Eagle (I wish!) - all that remains of the one I received all those decades ago is the main chassis and nothing else; all the other parts having been lost or destroyed through years of dangerous space missions to the alien planets of my backyard. Oh, the perils I used to subject that tiny crew of Alphans to!

Obviously, I got an awful lot of fun out of that thing, and if my fortunes ever turn around, I'd love to hunt down an intact one one day.

Of course, I later had the Eagle (and Hawk fighter) model kits, and they were cool, too, but once built, there really wasn't much you could do with the ships other than display them. That didn't actually stop me from playing with mine, though... which is why they no longer survive!

Friday, November 6, 2009


Most readers of this blog have probably already seen this, but I thought it was worth posting, and since it's directly tied to the 1978 Battlestar Galactica series, it seems appropriate to this site, as well.

Ten years ago, prior to Universal Studios' revamp/reimagining of Battlestar Galactica for the Sci-Fi Channel, actor Richard Hatch wrote and personally financed this four-minute promotional trailer for a proposed, straight-forward sequel series.

Taking place a couple of decades after the conclusion of the '78 show, Hatch's version had Apollo in charge of the Colonial fleet, having succeeded the now-deceased Adama. Starbuck is missing, and when Baltar returns, warning of a new, more-deadly generation of Cylons, Apollo must train a new force of young warriors to battle the threat.

Several original cast members - Terry Carter, Jack Stauffer, George Murdock, and the late John Colicos - joined Hatch's ambitious project (along with Galactica 1980 villain Richard Lynch), but I don't believe that Universal ever seriously considered going with the actor's proposed revival.

Hatch ultimately used many of his story concepts in a series of authorized Galactica novels co-written by Christopher Golden (and others). I have three of them, and they're actually pretty good.

Video Copyright 1999 by Su-Shann Productions.

Coming Attractions: STARCRASH (1978) Trailer

Seriously. I love this movie. Too bad there still isn't a decent DVD of it out there.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Set in the "Star Year" 3732, the short-lived Space Academy Saturday morning kidvid series (it mutated into Jason of Star Command a year later) chronicled the adventures of a group of young space cadets led by handsome Chris Gentry (Ric Carrot, The Swinging Cheerleaders) and his telepathic sister Laura, (popular 60’s and 70’s child actress Pamelyn Ferdin). Other cadets include Brian Tochi, Ty Henderson, Eric Greene and the incredibly hot Maggie Cooper (An Eye For An Eye). Under the tutelage of their teacher/headmaster, Commander Isaac Gampu (Jonathan Harris of Lost in Space, with a bizarre haircut), the earnest young cadets learned important lessons about honor, duty and life while exploring the galaxy and unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

Shot on a very low budget (although still the most expensive children's show up to that time), Space Academy was Filmation Studios’ second live-action science fiction series, following the previous year’s post-Apocalyptic adventure, Ark II (which was sort of Damnation Alley for kids). Despite the budget, SA is surprisingly well crafted, with good production values, sets and costumes, not to mention high-quality, pre-CGI special effects that rival those produced for other 70’s sci-fi projects, including the vastly more expensive Space: 1999. Nowadays, it’s common to call such handcrafted, painstaking miniature work "cheesy," especially when compared to today’s hi-tech, computer-created effects, but that’s just insulting, ignorant and inaccurate. Space Academy boasts damned fine effects work and it adds immeasurably to the show’s charm. In fact, effects supervisor Chuck Comisky went on to supervise the effects on Roger Corman’s 1980 epic space opera, Battle Beyond the Stars, and some of his crew members worked on Star Wars and its sequels.

The model work is remarkably detailed and nicely-designed. The Seeker shuttles were designed specifically to resemble the Ark II vehicle so that the budget-conscious studio could reuse the expensive full-size prop. The Academy model itself is fascinating, as it depicts the space station as being built on and into an asteroid. It makes for a cool and unique visual.

Scripts are a mixed bag – ranging from some thought-provoking sci-fi and effective character studies to childish kid’s space adventures, but the cast is likeable and every half-hour episode is entertaining, each delivering the obligatory moral just before the end credits. Additionally, Maggie Cooper frequently wears a miniskirt. My favorite episode, though, is probably the one where the show’s obligatory cute robot, Peepo, had to battle an evil ‘bot portrayed by Bill Malone’s recreation of Robby The Robot from Forbidden Planet. (Robby also appeared in an episode of Filmation’s previous live action sci-fi show, Ark II.) Another favorite is "Star Legend," in which the cadets encounter a "Flying Dutchman"-styled ghost ship, which just happens to look exactly like the Academy – upside down!

BCI/Eclipse’s now out-of-print DVD set includes all 15 episodes of the single season on 4 discs, and is also available in a Filmation Sci-Fi box set with Ark II and Jason Of Star Command. The full frame transfers look very good for their age. BCI has also included plenty of nostalgic bonus features, including a half-hour documentary/cast reunion and two episode commentary tracks with producer Lou Scheimer, cast members Carrot, Tochi and Greene, and effects supervisor Comisky. There’s an extensive still gallery, all the episode scripts on DVD-ROM, commercial bumpers and more.

The only disappointment in this fine DVD set is that neither Pamelyn Ferdin (Laura) nor Maggie Cooper (Adrian) were involved in the reunion/documentary. It’s a shame, because Ferdin was one of the most prolific and familiar child actresses of the era and probably has some great stories, while Maggie Cooper was… well, an uber-babe.

• TRIVIA: Cadets Brian Tochi and Pamelyn Ferdin both appeared in the third season Star Trek episode, "And The Children Shall Lead."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Although not common, neither was it unheard of in the 60s and 70s for television producers to release select episodes of their series to theaters as feature films. The 60s spy show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., for instance, made a regular practice of it, with each of their two-part episodes being designed specifically to be combined and released internationally as feature films.

In 1978, Battlestar Galactica was the most expensive series ever produced for television. In an attempt to get as much return on their investment as possible, Universal Studios actually released an edited version of the 3-hour premiere episode to theaters during the holiday season, augmented with their patented, rumbling Sensurround process (of course, few theaters were actually set up to employ the process, so despite the ads, most patrons got regular theater sound). This version was subsequently released on home video (and is still the version on DVD).

Universal also produced two additional Galactica features. Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack was made up primarily of footage from the two-part episiode "The Living Legend" (featuring Lloyd Bridges as The Pegasus' Commander Cain) with additional scenes spliced in from "Fire In Space." It was pretty-well executed, really, except for a poorly written, off-screen bit of dialogue dubbed in at the end to tie up some unresolved plot threads. This feature was released theatrically overseas, as a syndicated television film, and on VHS home video.

The final Galactica feature was an edited-down version of the 3-part Galactica: 1980 premiere, and was called Conquest of the Earth. This also was released to overseas theaters, independent television stations and home video. Now, as I remember it, the worst part of this particular compilation (beyond it being Galactica: 1980, I mean) is that it completely eliminates the only remotely interesting portions of the original TV episodes: the time-travel adventure with Richard Lynch (probably because it dealt with Nazis) leaving only the really dull running around Los Angeles on the flying Viper motorcycles stuff.

Apparently this strategy was pretty successful for the studio, because in 1979 they actually released the pilot to their new space series, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, to theaters a couple of months before it debuted on television! More on that later....


From director Jun Fukuda and special effects wiz Nakano Teruyoshi, the creators of several Seventies’ Godzilla epics, comes Toho Studios’ 1977 interstellar adventure, The War In Space (Wakusei Daisenso).

Conceived by Toho Studios as a fast Star Wars cash-in, the final film owes as much to Gerry Anderson’s television shows UFO and Space: 1999 and the Japanese studios’ own Sixties sci-fi thrillers Atragon and Battle in Outer Space as it does to George Lucas’ intergalactic epic.

In the (then-future) year of 1988, UFOs attack the Earth. While the invaders are devastating New York, Paris, Tokyo and the world’s other major cities, a team of scientists race to complete a space battleship called Ghoten. Once launched, the ship and its crew head for Venus, to counterattack the aliens. Along the way, the only female crewmember (lovely Yuko Asano) is kidnapped by the green-skinned, Roman-helmeted alien leader and his horned wookie, UFOs engage in high-speed dogfights with the Earth fighters above the barren Venusian landscape, and space ships explode impressively.

The old school, handcrafted special effects work – finely detailed miniatures on mostly-invisible wires – is expertly executed and effective. The spaceships, in a decidedly Asian conceit, resemble sea-faring vessels, and the alien flagship is specifically modeled on ancient Roman sailing ship designs. The Ghoten features a huge drill bit (shades of Atragon!) and cool, giant revolvers that fire missiles and are also used to launch sleek, one-man fighters. The UFOs are original and unique. Made on a fraction of Star Wars’ budget, The War in Space demonstrates that ingenuity and imagination can carry the day even when money’s tight.

A few years ago, Discotek Media released The War in Space for the first time on U.S. home video (I believe) on DVD with a brilliant 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, completely restored and remastered. Audio options included both the original Japanese language track and an English dub, presented in both the original mono and in a newly created 5.1 remix. The Japanese track is preferable, as it’s stronger and more robust. Discotek also included a bevy of cool bonus features, including a fascinating video interview with special effects director Nakano Teruyoshi, the original theatrical trailer, an extensive still gallery, and an informative booklet that includes poster art, spaceship design sketches and liner notes.

As a fan of 70's outer space epics and Japanese fantasy films, I’ve been wanting to see this movie ever since I saw the poster art in a 1978 issue of Fantastic Films magazine. It took almost 30 years, but I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a terrific presentation of a great old-fashioned space opera, and I recommend it highly.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Like many other things in my life, I first discovered the existence of The Starlost through the pages of Starlog magazine in the mid-70's. I learned there that it had been a short-lived 1973 television series created by Harlan Ellison, who, dissatisfied by the final product, had chosen to use his pen name of "Cordwainer Bird" in the credits.

I also knew that Keir Dullea, of 2001: A Space Odyssey, played the lead role of Devon, a young Amish man who discovers that his small world of Cypress Corners is actually an artificial biosphere, one of many that make up the Earthship Ark – a vast multi-generation spacecraft. Venturing beyond his own artificial world, he discovers that a cataclysmic accident several hundred years before killed the command crew of the Ark, and it is now crippled and off-course, heading directly toward a star. With his friends Rachel (Gay Rowan) and Garth (Robin Ward), Devon searches the Ark for some way to correct the ship's course, or for someone knowledgeable enough save it and the millions of people isolated in their own biospheres – most of whom are unaware that they are on a spaceship at all.

And that was about it.

In the late 80's I came across a paperback copy of Phoenix Without Ashes, Edward Bryant's novelization of Ellison's original pilot script for the series. The introduction to the book – by Ellison himself – detailed the series' troubled production and the reasons for the acclaimed author's unhappiness with the show. The novel was pretty good, and piqued my interest, but as the series had only run for 16 episodes and was virtually unseen in syndication, I figured I'd never see the show. Which disappointed me, because I love 70's sci-fi television, no matter how bad its reputation.

Well, considering all the obscurities that have been dug up and released on DVD in the last decade, I should have guessed that somebody would put it on digital disc eventually, and sure enough, the folks at VCI Entertainment have done just that. All 16 episodes of the Canadian-produced show are now available on a compact, 4-disc set.

Produced on a very small budget, the show was shot on videotape and featured modular sets that could be disassembled and reassembled in different configurations to suggest new sections of the vast Earthship Ark. There was also extensive use of chromakey (bluescreen), which enabled the production team to drop the actors "into" miniature sets, which saved even more money. Too bad most of the miniatures were pretty unconvincing.

The videotape filming, sets and costumes give the series a look similar to Doctor Who episodes of the same vintage, but The Starlost doesn't have the same charismatic characters or ambitious storylines and unbridled imagination of Who. In fact, it's pretty mundane all around.

The stories started out okay – if overly cliched – but soon devolved into silliness, with the sort of ludicrous faux science that was common in the era's sci-fi TV. And that's a real shame since some decent guest stars appeared on the show, including familiar genre faces John Colicos (the original Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek), Barry Morse (Space: 1999), Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker), and Walter Koenig (Star Trek, Babylon 5).

Still, I found myself growing somewhat fond of Devon, Garth and Rachel, and I thought that most of the episodes were - at least - entertaining.

Nonetheless, I can completely understand why Ellison disowned the show, and why noted science fiction writer Ben Bova was embarrassed to be credited as the series' "science advisor" – he was completely ignored by the producers, but they kept his name in the credits for the publicity value. Same with special effects ace Douglas Trumbull (2001, Silent Running, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), who quit the show before the first episode was shot, but remained credited as a producer for the entire run.

VCI's DVD set includes all 16 episodes on 4 discs, packed into one standard-sized case. The transfers are sharp and clean, but as noted above, the show was shot on videotape, so the picture quality is far from perfect, with some minor video "noise" and some bleeding colors. It's probably better than it looked on TV in '73, though. The only extra is a presentation reel used to pitch the syndicated series to independent stations before production, hosted by Dullea and Trumbull. In this short film, the series is verbally described by Dullea, accompanied by stock effects shots from Trumbull's then-recent feature, Silent Running.

The Starlost is a classic missed opportunity – with Ellison, Bova and Trumbull aboard, it should have been something remarkable, and revolutionary. Unfortunately, the realities of independent television production, and the bad judgment of the producers resulted instead in an artistic and commercial misfire, interesting only to die hard fans of 70's genre television like myself.

If you consider yourself such a fan, then VCI's set is worth checking out. Buy it from Amazon here: The Starlost - The Complete Series