Thursday, December 30, 2010

Captain's bLog 1230.10

•  Okay - I seriously underestimated how much the holidays would screw with my planned work schedule this month, so the "End of the World As We Knew It" theme "week" will be extended a bit. I still have a few posts in various stages of completion, and will get them published in the next few weeks. This includes an article on The Omega Man....

•  Another thing I'd hoped to do in December was post the first Space: 1970 podcast on Christmas day. Again, though, I misjudged how much work I still needed to do on it (and how little spare time I'd have to do it), so, maybe I'll get it up after New Years (assuming I can figure out how to post it to the site). I actually completed a 20-minute "pilot" a while back, but I want to re-record it and smooth out some rough patches before I present it for public consumption.

•  As noted below, I received the Season 1 Space: 1999 Blu-Ray set from my wife for Christmas. (Praise the cosmos for holiday sales/discounts!)

I'm truly astounded at the visual improvement and the extensive supplemental material. If you're a HD-equipped Space: 1999 fan and on the fence about picking it up (especially if, like me, you've bought the show on DVD a couple times already), I recommend taking the plunge. The audio and video are vastly improved over the Region 1 DVDs. I hope that A&E and Network will work the same magic on UFO sometime soon.

•  As 2010 comes to its end, I'd like to thank everyone who's stopped by Space: 1970, and wish you all a great 2011. Personally, I've had a rough year, but this site has been among its very few joys, and I'm grateful to everyone who visited, and especially those who've commented and/or made a point of following the blog.

If you're on Facebook, please consider "liking" the Space: 1970 Facebook page. If you're interested in supporting the site, there's a Paypal donation button over in the right-hand sidebar (reader donations paid for that Message from Space DVD I reviewed not long ago). Finally, if you're interested in my other work (I write comic books for several publishers as well as short fiction), stop by my homepage at Atomic Pulp and check out my stuff.

Happy New Year, space kids!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


For Christmas, I received the new A&E Region 1 Blu-Rays of Space: 1999 Season One. I honestly didn't expect much from the HD upgrade (the show is 35+ years old, after all), and was initially more interested in the extensive bonus features.

But, I have to say that the high definition remasters are absolutely gorgeous. In a direct comparison to the A&E DVDs, the new transfers are remarkably, vastly superior.

Colors are truer and perfectly balanced, there is virtually no dirt or debris evident, and the miniature effects - by far the most impressive aspect of the show in the first place - look utterly fantastic, with rock-solid blacks and razor sharp detail. And I don't know if they went in and digitally removed the effects wires that were visible on DVDs, or if the new, high-contrast transfers simply hide them better, but on the handful of episodes I've watched so far, I haven't seen a single one - and I've been looking.

I'm also digging the cleaned-up titles and new audio mix; Barry Gray's opening theme sounds spectacular in 5.1.

I haven't yet made it through all the bonus features, but the featurettes I've checked out have all been entertaining and informative. I'm looking forward to working my way through all of the supplements and re-watching all the episodes again. I had also forgotten that Sseason 2's debut episode, "The Metamorph," was among the extras (It wasn't listed on the package). It also looks beautiful in HD, and I'm eager to see the rest of Year Two make its way to America on Blu-Ray....

ADDENDUM: Amazon currently has the set at more than 50% off: Space: 1999: The Complete Season One [Blu-ray]

Monday, December 27, 2010

MAD MAX (1979) Theatrical Posters

To continue with our post-Apocalyptic holiday theme, here's a nice selection of theatrical one-sheets from the most influential CARmageddon film of the Seventies, George Miller's Mad Max. The international success of this genre trailblazer led to the even more influential sequel (known in the States as The Road Warrior), which inspired countless imitations throughout the 80s. 

Personally, my favorite is the American-International U.S. poster at the top - it has a great 70's sci-fi paperback cover quality to it that really pushes my buttons.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Season's Greetings from R2-D2, C-3PO and all of us at Space: 1970. Our post-Apocalyptic holiday posts will resume shortly.

Christmas In The Stars.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Coming Attractions: THE OMEGA MAN (1971) Theatrical Trailer

Here's the trailer to 1971's The Omega Man, the second (official) film adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel, I Am Legend, and the second of Charlton Heston's Space: 1970-era sci-fi triptych (Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, Soylent Green). Look for a full-length post on this quintessential Seventies doomsday flick in a day or two....


Robert Clouse's 1975 post-Apocalyptic adventure film, The Ultimate Warrior, is not particularly well-remembered or well-regarded, but I first saw it on the CBS Late Movie in the late Seventies, and liked it quite a bit - and still do. Starring Yul Brynner (Westworld) and Max von Sydow (Flash Gordon), it is essentially a Western in sci-fi drag, filmed entirely on backlot city streets on a low budget. Still, coming four years before Mad Max, its urban setting makes a nice difference from the usual deserts and  wastelands of the majority of post-Armageddon genre efforts, and I've always had an affection for the film.

It is the year 2012, and war and plague have devastated the world and civilization has crumbled. Among the ruins of New York City, groups of survivors have banded together within walled-off city blocks and attempt to carve out some sort of life for themselves. Some groups are peaceful, clinging to the tattered remnants of civilized life, while others are aggressive, violent scavengers. One of the peaceful groups is The Commune, led by a man known as the Baron (von Sydow). Nearby is another band of survivors led by the brutal, red-haired Carrot (the always-awesome William Smith). One day, a bare-chested, bald man appears on the streets between the two groups, standing unmoving in the same spot for hours. Apparently this behavior is a recognized way of applying for a job, because the Baron believes that the man is a fighter entertaining bids for his services.

The Baron leads a delegation to try and recruit the man, a mercenary called Carson (Brynner, still convincingly badass at age 55). At first, Carson appears disinterested in the Baron's offer, but when the delegation is attacked by a group of Carrot's marauders, Carson steps in to help, proving himself adept with a knife. The Baron and the surviving members of his group, accompanied by Carson, retreat to the safety of their barricaded neighborhood compound.

Once introduced to the members of the Commune, Carson is given clothing and food and sits down to discuss his services with the Baron. When asked why he agreed to join them, Carson admits that it was because the Baron had mentioned that he possessed a supply of cigars! Eventually, the Baron reveals his true reason for recruiting the mercenary. The constant raids from Carrot's group and the rapidly diminishing food supply has convinced him that the only hope for the future is to get select members of his group - including his pregnant daughter Melinda (Joanna Miles) and green-thumbed rooftop farmer Cal (played by Richard Kelton, who portrayed a vegetable himself as Ficus on Quark) - out of the city. He wants Carson to lead and protect them as they make their way to an island off the coast of North Carolina with a supply of Cal's hybrid seeds.

Ultimately, only Carson and Melinda make it out of the compound, and are pursued through the city's abandoned subways by Carrot and his raiders... leading to a final battle to the death between the mercenary and the red-haired scavenger.

Robert Clouse is a competent director of B-action movies, having helmed films like Darker Than Amber with Rod Taylor (and William Smith) and The Amsterdam Kill with Robert Mitchum. But his greatest success was directing Bruce Lee's only Hollywood-financed film, Enter The Dragon. He spent most of his career trying to recreate that success with a slew of drive-in chop-socky films starring Jim Kelly, Jackie Chan, Joe Lewis and Cynthia Rothrock. In the case of The Ultimate Warrior, he not only directed but wrote the screenplay, which, as noted above, is pretty much a straightforward Western plot.

Although not a great movie, Clouse makes good use of the Warner Brothers backlot city streets (which have been appropriately "distressed") and stages the fight scenes fairly well. Brynner - and his stunt double - are convincingly tough and quick with a knife, and Smith always makes a great, physically menacing villain. In fact, the cast is uniformly good, with everyone delivering solid, professional performances. Special effects are minimal - shots of the "abandoned" city/aftermath world are conveyed by still photographs of empty streets and one or two static matte paintings.

As a pre-Mad Max/Road Warrior/Escape From New York "aftermath" flick, The Ultimate Warrior is refreshingly free of "punk" haircuts and S&M fashions, and presents a somewhat more believable world than most of the post-Apocalypse actioners that came along in the 80s. The backlot filming does give the movie a slightly claustrophobic/artificial feel, but Clouse manages to keep things moving along a decent clip, and Brynner's charisma holds it all together.

A couple years ago, Warner Brothers released it on DVD as a Best Buy exclusive, paired with the extraordinarily goofy, 1967 "yellow peril" flick Battle Beneath the Earth. The DVD has no extra features, but does sport a very decent, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The disc is still available for less than twenty bucks, at Amazon: Battle Beneath the Earth/The Ultimate Warrior

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rerun: ARK II (1976)

Okay, admittedly, I'm getting off to a bad start with the first Space: 1970 Theme Week: a day late and a re-post at that!, But... I actually intended to re-post some of the more relevant articles from the past year in addition to at least five new ones; I just didn't plan to start the week that way. Unfortunately, I haven't managed my time very well, so... here's my review of the Ark II DVD set from a few years ago, with a few minor revisions and some additional screen captures. With luck, I'll have a brand-new themed post up shortly.

Even as a kid in 1976, I thought that Ark II was a surprisingly bleak and grim premise for a Saturday morning children’s television series. Of course, at the time, it all seemed like a very possible near-future; as a child of the Seventies, I was uncomfortably aware of (even if I didn't understand) the energy crisis, the conflict in Vietnam, and the omnipresent nuclear threat posed by the Cold War.

Set in the 25th Century, after the world has been devastated by pollution and war, three multi-cultural young scientists (the late Terry Lester, Jean Marie Hon of Man From Atlantis, 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 Scheimer) 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 (Lost in Space, Space Academy), Malachi Throne, Geoffrey Lewis, Jim Backus and a teenage Helen Hunt.

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 BCI’s other Filmation DVD 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 (including designs for a proposed animated version of the series), 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.

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; in fact, here's some links:

•  Filmation Sci-Fi Box Set
Ark II: The Complete Series