Apes Rule Then and Now

July 31, 2008

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that there are a couple of postings that  make reference to perhaps the first American science fiction franchise of the modern film era…  Planet of the Apes.

Several days ago AMC aired the entire film series (of which I admit to watching sections throughout the day) and I happened to watch a recorded episode of the “Big Bang Theory” in which they went to an Apes film festival.  Of course this reminded me of (hold on to something solid, it’s coming…) my childhood memories of the Apes.  I remember one summer being dropped off at the local theatre with a ticket from the PTA in-hand and 50 cents for a Dr. Pepper.  We all sat in the dark, pelted each other with crazy caffeine energy using whatever wasn’t stuck to the floor and whooped and hollered at the Apes.  To this day I still have flashbacks of the dream/nightmare that followed where the Apes invaded my childhood neighborhood.

For all of its B-movie knocks, in many ways, the Planet of the Apes series developed the blueprint used by many science fiction endeavors (such as Star Wars, Star Trek, and, to a lesser extent, Superman, Batman, and Spiderman) that followed. Not only did Planet of the Apes spawn four sequels, but also a television series (short-lived but entertaining), a Saturday morning cartoon, countless books, comic books, and the other spin-off material – the “action figures”, costumes, lunch boxes, and various other crap that are now mandatory to the success of any summer blockbuster (and trade fodder for “collectors”).

When originally released, Planet of the Apes was strongly received by critics and the public alike and became a victim of its own success. The Planet of the Apes original team had gone into the film without thoughts of a sequel, so, when the desire arose, no one knew exactly where to take the story. Predictably, the resulting motion picture, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, turned out to be a muddled, poorly conceived, B-movie adventure turd that did to the series what entries like Alien 3, Return of the Jedi (sorry Ryan :-)), Superman 3, and Star Trek V did to their franchises. Fortunately, things got better with the third (and my favorite) installment, Escape From the Planet of the Apes.

Like most good science fiction, Apes combines action, adventure, futuristic settings, and allegory into entertainment. It’s by no stretch of the imagination a masterpiece, but, even after almost 30 years, it holds up reasonably well (especially if you look past the logic flaws and just watch). The special effects are hokey, but set design, costumes, and makeup are great. The apes look like advanced simians (and indistinguishable from several extended family members), not just men in monkey suits. This, I think, is (and was for me as a kid) a key to the film’s success. The creatures are believable enough that we accept them, rather than laugh at them. Once you buy into the concept of a planet ruled by apes, everything else slides easily into place.

What is funnier than a Japanese game show? Darth Vader on a Japanese game show!

BSG: Emmy Snub

July 17, 2008

No way!!!!  Can’t believe it!!!  no Emmy nominations for BSG.  I guess SciFi of this caliber still isn’t “mainstream” enough to get a nod.

Others also seem to be of a similar mind:

http://tv.yahoo.com/the-60th-annual-primetime-emmy-awards/show/43034/photos/emmy_nominees/nom-reality-competition/291

Or maybe there is another reason….  Like they have changed the Emmy rules to say that you can only be nominated if the TV show was FILMED in late 2007 or early 2008.

The bitterness continues……

Wow! I was just joking, but someone actually created a fanfilm on YouTube that brings together Glen A. Larson’s iconic SciFi greats.  

Nice, but I call for a reimaging! Buckaroohawk if you should choose to accept this mission you will be rewarded by having a whole new generation of Battlestar geeks hitting your site. Of course, you’re going to need to reimage Buck before Frank Miller mucks with it. One suggestion, though, would be to go back to the orignal source. Yes, reverse reimage it! Bring back inertron, anti-gravity belts, rayguns, and air ships.

OK, I know it has been weeks since the final mid-season episode of Battlestar Galactica, and I should have written about this then, but I can no longer just stew about it. Let me share. Although I do enjoy the reimaged BSG, I am very much a child of the classic generation. I was there when George Lucas tried to sue Glen A. Larson because Vipers were too close to X-Wings, Cylons were too close to Stormtroopers, and Apollo and Starbuck’s feathered doos infringed on Han and Luke’s blow-dried confections. I spent many long hours on the playground reimaging BSG myself. I was Apollo, but it never crossed my mind to find myself a macho 9 year old girl to play Starbuck. I was crushed when they canceled my favorite TV show. It meant I had nothing to occupy me until another Star Wars movie came out. Sure there was Star Trek, but I was past phasers and on to blasters! Then came along the unholiest of mistakes (not so unholy as the Star Wars Holiday Special, but close) called Galactica 1980. To this day, I am still blocking out each and every episode from my memory to avoid any emotional damage. There was hope, however. Enter Buck Rogers in the 25th Century! What is now high-caliber, cheesy, scifi nostalgia was once a weekly fix of futuristic wonder and enjoyment (yes, I admit it, I have it on DVD). There were blasters and Buck even had down some of Kirk’s moves. He took the shirt rip to all new heights. With Battlestar, we were watching a lost tribe search for Earth, with Buck Rogers we saw earthlings searching for the lost tribes of humanity in space. Mmm. The conclusion? What I’d always believed in my heart was going to happen but never got to see it? The Galactica finds earth, but instead of school kids and flying motorcycles, and instead of destroyed cities, they find Buck, Wilma, and Twiki! BdBdBdBd! This could have been Scifi channel’s big chance to not only reimage BSG, but Buck Rogers as well! Spin-off suavemente. I guess, I’ll have to just make my own fan film and post it on YouTube.

After negotiating a small bank loan, buying a lot of overpriced and under flavored popcorn and being forced to watch a dozen previews for animated movies containing lost, talking animals trying to find their way home I was finally treated to “Wall-E”.

One of the things I noticed about Wall-E was the level and sophistication of the animation.  Particularly the background details and simulated camera angles, zooms and pans.  Computer animation has come a LONG way in the last decade.  While the story was very shallow, I was impressed anyway.

While watching the movie I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Wall-E and the 70s classic film “Silent Running”.  There are robots, space travel, environmental themes, and crazed people (or computers).  Wall-E even kinda looks like the Hooey, Dewey, and Louie trio from “Silent Running”.

Don’t get me wrong, Wall-E is no remake.  There are differences and I think these differences mirror some of the sentiments of the respective eras the films were made.  The 70s were a time of environmental uncertainty and activism. I think this is when we as a society first came to grips with man’s potential to drastically change the environment and it wasn’t always a pretty picture being painted.

It seems sentiment has shifted a bit and even though rampant consumerism (I loved the BNL logos and messaging everywhere!!) may be destroying our environment, Wall-E has at its heart a message of hope.  Hope for rebuilding the environment and the hope of love (always great fodder for movies) and coming together instead of going it alone.

To me the last scenes of each typify the differences….  One sends the environmental hope into space and blows up his ship and we see the lone robot going it alone.  The other returns to Earth to begin again and of course robot love instead of loneliness.

Both movies are worth a viewing.

Sometime close to Christmas 1985 I plopped down my $5 (or perhaps $4.50), entered a darkened theater and sat through a movie called “Brazil”. When it was over I thought to myself, “Perhaps I should start a non-profit group that goes after the major studios for taking money and giving nothing in return”. There were no bikini clad girls on a beach, no shots of Rio, not even a hint of the Amazon. I had been tricked by a title!! Of course, as with most of my thoughts, I was soon on to something else and had forgotten all about it.

Several years later I happened to see the same film again at a friend’s house (on.. shudder… VHS). It started as one of those “being polite” situations we all find ourselves facing. I figured I could watch for a while and make some polite excuse about gum surgery or a forgotten weekly enema appointment and duck out without too big of a fuss. However as I started watching the movie I became hooked and I stayed for the entire movie (forgetting the gums and bums).

Terry Gilliam once described Brazil as “Franz Kafka meets Walter Middy”. If you have never seen the movie it is set in a nightmarish, fantasized future that has somehow achieved the ultimate in all that is wrong with a technocratic society. It is a story about humanity attempting to escape a technocratic reality by retreating into dreams and fantasies.

The runaway, controlling, technocratic bureaucracy portrayed in Brazil has its tentacles in every part of humanity. Symbolized by the ducts that seem to dominate every room. But in the end we are shown that the only freedom we ultimately possess is within our own perceptions and thoughts.

There are many aspects to the slightly out of phase society I find amusing, but for me the most entertaining premise is that collection and storage of information is paramount (hm… sounds like most jobs today). For the techo-bureaucracy of Brazil the real horror is finding a piece of paper without a home, or even worse, acknowledging that the “mistake” that caused this out of place paper belongs in your department! The fact that a person dies and a family is destroyed by this paperwork glitch is completely irrelevant.

After all these years and several more viewings I find Brazil simply stunning. The story is incredibly creative, the acting is great (I love De Niro and Pryce) and the dialog is terrific. Gilliam’s sense of humor is what won me over ( I love the idea that the information retrieval department never retrieves any information :-)) I now have to admit that Brazil’s visuals and themes stay with you long after the film has ended and deserves a watch by all who are interested in having movies provoke deep thoughts.