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


  1. At twelve years old in 1976 ARK II was a saturday morning series that I looked forward to viewing because of it's impressive production values. Chris you are right about it.

  2. I remember watching this on Saturday mornings as a kid. I remember liking the postapaocalyptic setting, as well as the vehicles: the RV, the ATV it carried, and the jetpack. The only episode I can recall was where Jim Backus (Mr. Howell from Gilligan's Island) played a 20th-century industrialist who was revived from suspended animation and wanted to restart a chemical factory.

  3. I remember that this show existed. I couldn't recall the plot of a single episode, however. I've always wanted to sample it again.

  4. The main prop, the RV thing, was actually left over from the movie version of Damnation Alley.

    I used to love this show. I'd watch it every Saturday.

  5. Smilodon: You are mistaken. Aside from the fact that the two vehicles look nothing alike, Damnation Alley was made a year AFTER Ark II.

    Also, it is well-documented that not only did Filmation have the vehicle constructed specifically for their show, the front of the Ark was removed and re-used as part of the Seeker spacecraft mock-up for their subsequent series, Space Academy.

    The documentary on the Ark II DVDs goes into some detail on the design and construction of the Ark vehicle.

  6. For what it's worth - the Damnation Alley "Landmaster" was created by Dean Jeffries, and he rented it out on occasion (along with the cars he made for the Logan's Run TV series) for later low-budget flicks, like Fred Olen Ray's Hybrid.

    For more info on the "Landmaster":


  7. Ark II is by far my most fondly remembered live action kid show from the 70's, even more so than Shazam and Isis. I always thought the Ark II vehicle and land rover were the coolest thing ever, and of course the jet-pack was just amazing. Also the uniforms were WAY cooler than those worn by the Star Trek crew. I have the DVD set and enjoyed all the episodes as if I was back in the 70's. Great post.

  8. On this sunny Saturday morning, I decided to watch an episode of Ark II. It felt great to travel back in time some 35 years or so. One of these days, I'm going to assemble an all-70s Saturday morning, since I have so many of the shows now. All the good Filmation stuff, some Hanna Barbera and Krofft. Add in a bunch of retro commercials from YouTube, and it could be a time warp, maybe something like TV Land's Super Summer Saturdaze about ten years ago. I feel sorry for today's kids, who don't have wall-to-wall options on Saturday mornings anymore. Sure, there's Cartoon Network and a few offerings on Fox, but the feeling of Saturday mornings being kid-centric isn't there anymore.

    1. Since everything on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, YTV,Teletoon/Teletoon Retro (the last three mentioned are Canadian channels) has animation on it 24-7/365, there's no real need for a Saturday morning block on the major US networks, it seems. That doesn't means it isn't as fun as it used to be, just that isn't as fun for you as when you were a kid. Try to look at the situation from a kid's eyes.

    2. I've done this a few times and the vintage shows combined with vintage ads and interstitials like Schoolhouse Rock, Time For Timer and In The News really throws you back to the 1970s.

    3. I'm in the midst of doing a retro Saturday Morning right now (except I keep referring to the internet for info on shows and actors!) I think ARK II is the best of the live-action shows and I probably played it along with Space 1999 and Six Million Dollar man and Man from Atlantis the most in my childhood. My kids have no interest in these shows and love Anime and Video Games. Holy Generation Gap! But at least us middle age nerds can revisit these shows and commericials and interstitials. Our parents, when they were our age, had to rely totally on memory for their childhood visions.

  9. I was Nine years old when the show first appeared. I never missed an episode every Saturday morning. I had a huge crush for Jean Marie Hon. Heck! I even watched Man from Atlantis since she was on that.

  10. When Pontiac (as in General Motors) revealed it's "futuristic" Pontiac Transport 1991, I think it was, I remember commenting to my sister that it looked a little like that Ark thing in that old TV show I used to watch. (now when I said that, all I had was a vague image from memory that managed to survive the 80's It was close. :)