As Space: 1999 shows us, the future ain’t what it used to be; Stuart Gordon takes a look at one way Edgar Allan Poe might have been inspired to write a classic in Masters of Horror: The Black Cat, and all five TV Trek Captains choose their favorite adventures – to accompany those chosen by Trek fans in Star Trek: Captain’s Logs Fan Collective.
Space: 1999 30th Anniversary Edition Megaset
When it premiered in 1975, Space: 1999 had a ready-made fan base in fans of Gerry and Silvia Anderson’s various super-Marionation shows [Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet among them] and their previous live action series, UFO. As with those shows, the plots were full of action and relatively light on character – the all-star cast created their characters by introducing [and in some cases, imposing] traits solely on the basis of their performances.
The show’s science was sketchy at best, but the sets, miniatures and non-organic special effects were lightyears ahead of anything the Andersons [or anyone else on TV, for that matter] had done before. When there were monsters, lighting tricks and camera angles frequently [but not always] made up for them rivaling those of Lost in Space for goofiness.
That international all-star cast including Martin Landau and Barbara Bain [Mission: Impossible] as Commander John Koenig and Dr. Helena Russell, Canadian Barry Morse [the relentless Lt. Gerard on The Fugitive], Aussie Nick Tate as Captain Alan Carter, the Burmese Zieniz Merton as analyst Sandra Benes, and the Hungarian Catherine Schell as Series Two’s Maya, a shapeshifter.
The series premiere found nuclear waste on the dark side of the moon somehow causing a rapid increase of magnetic energy – energy which first caused several members of the Moonbase Alpha crew to suffer what appeared to be radiation poisoning, and then exploded, turning the moon into a huge starship and blasting out of Earth’s orbit.
As I mentioned above, the science for this SF series was sketchy at best. Week in and week out, the moon would encounter planets that seemed to be just hanging in space without the benefit of a star to orbit, or even the vestiges of a star system in the vicinity. People came back from the dead in the form of anti-matter versions of themselves; time-delay monsters sequestered themselves in the base’s Eagle transport ships, or hid within ancient crystals on asteroids.
On the other hand, the episodes were fast-paced fun and whatever they might have lacked in scientific accuracy, they made up for with an internal consistency that placed the program as one of the best Gerry and Sylvia Anderson productions. The first-rate cast elevated the material – in terms of characterization, at least – and there seemed to be a genuine chemistry to the whole team.
Another thing that helped compensate for inaccurate [or non-existent] science was the way several episodes seemed to approach modern myth – especially Dragon’s Domain, a reworking of the story of St. George and the Dragon [featuring a monster that sequestered itself in an Eagle, just between the airlock and the entrance to the pilot’s cockpit]. Also, as with all Anderson productions, the miniatures, models and explosions were amazing.
The 30th Anniversary Megaset includes all forty-eight episodes of Space: 1999, and a bonus DVD that includes: three re-mastered episodes, with optional commentary [Testament of Arkadia, Dragon’s Domain and Death’s Other Dominion]; a Message From Moonbase Alpha [twenty-five years after the accident]; Interview with Production Designer Keith Wilson; an Alternate Key Sequence [from Collision Course], and four extensive photo galleries [Original Series Memorabilia, Deleted and Alternate Scenes, Behind-The-Scenes Production Stills, and Behind-The-Scenes SFX Stills].
Each of the seventeen regular DVDs has a Photo Gallery. Other extras include: DVD 8, Season One Trailer Gallery; DVD 9, Original Promotion Spot; DVD 11, Original Year Two Behind-The-Scenes Featurette; DVD 13, Original Promotion Spots; Gallery of Original Pre-Production Artwork; DVD 14, BBC Behind-The Scenes Segment, Original Theatrical Trailers; DVD 15, Special Effects Segment with Brian Johnson, Rare Blackpool “Space City” Exhibit Film, UK “Ice Lolly” TV Commercial; DVD 16, Rare Vintage Interviews With Cast and Crew.
Grade: Space: 1999 30th anniversary Edition Megaset – B
Grade: Features – B+
Final Grade: B
Masters of Horror: The Black Cat
Stuart Gordon is best known for his film adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft [see season one’s Dreams in the Witch House]. Lovecraft was heavily influenced by Edgar Allan Poe. And so, now Gordon pays his respects to one of America’s truly unique writers of mystery and horror with his take on Poe’s The Black Cat.
As usual, Gordon [and writing partner Dennis Paoli] takes an unusual approach to putting Poe’s classic tale on film. They have written the story around the events of Poe’s life at the time the story takes place/was written. The result is one of the best episodes of the series to date, as we see Poe dealing with his wife’s illness – and events that unfold both in reality and in Poe’s mind [the director makes no distinction, so there are jump moments that become doubly effective as we try to figure out if they’re real or not].
Gordon originally intended to shoot The Black Cat in black and white, to evoke the era, but Showtime wouldn’t go for that so he made the film with the colors as washed out as he could manage – except, of course, for certain key scenes that required a splash of yellow, a dollop of blue, or a burst of blood. Though this is one of Gordon’s least violent films, there is definitely a noticeable amount of the latter.
Even with a terrific script, a talented director and a first-rate effects house, The Black Cat wouldn’t work if the wrong actor were cast in the lead. Frequent Gordon collaborator [and B-movie icon] Jeffrey Combs takes on the role and is absolutely perfect. With only minor make-up [a bit of work on the nose], Combs so transforms himself into Poe that even his distinctive voice doesn’t give him away immediately.
The Black Cat may well be Stuart Gordon’s best work – and that’s saying something!
Features include: The Tell-Tale Cat: The Making of The Black Cat; Bringing Down The Axe: Behind the FX of The Black Cat; Audio Commentary by Gordon and Combs [check out the parallels between Poe and combs – very interesting stuff]; Photo Gallery; DVD-ROM Script, and Insert title Card [with breakdown by scenes].
Grade: Masters of Horror: The Black Cat – A
Grade: Features – A
Final Grade: A
Star Trek: Captain’s Log Fan Collective
One of the more interesting volumes in the Star Trek Fan Collective Series, Captain’s Log features both fan and actor choices for each of Trek’s five captains. Each of the set’s five discs is allocated to a different captain: William Shatner, James T. Kirk, Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard, Avery Brooks’ Benjamin Sisko, Kate Mulgrew’s Kathryn Janeway, and Scott Bakula’s Jonathan Archer.
The breakdown of each disc is: the star’s selection and two fan picks. Each captain introduces their pick, while Stewart and Bakula comment on both fan pan picks and Mulgrew does one. The big surprises are in the selections. While no one could be surprised at the captains’ choices, the fans choices can be a bit shocking for the hardcore Trekker.
Following Shatner’s choice [City on the Edge of Forever], the fans’ choices are The Enterprise Incident [Kirk, who appears unstable, orders the Enterprise in Romulan space] and Balance of Terror [The enterprise stalks a Romulan ship that is cloaked from their sensors]. Amok Time [in which we learn about Pon Farr] is nowhere to be found.
Stewart chooses In Theory [the Enterprise explores a dangerous nebula while Data pursues a “normal” relationship], an episode I barely remembered, instead of The Inner Light [which allowed Stewart to play an entire lifetime as Picard] and the fans select Chain of Command – Parts I & II [Picard is captured and tortured while on a secret mission] and Darmok [Picard is stranded with an alien captain who speaks only on metaphor].
Brooks chooses Far Beyond The Stars [a black SF writer in the fifties], while the fans choose What You Leave Behind – Parts I & II [Sisko launches the attack that marks the beginning of the end to the Dominion War] and In The Pale Moonlight [with the Dominion beating the Federation and the Klingons, Sisko must lure the Romulans into the war].
Mulgrew chooses Counterpoint [Janeway hides a group of telepathic refugees from inspectors from the Devore Imperium, but finds the lead Devore officer intriguing], while the fans picked The Omega Directive [Janeway enlists her senior crew to help destroy the Omega Molecule], and Flashback [a deathly ill Tuvok can only be saved by mind melding with Janeway].
Bakula chooses Judgment [the Klingon Empire accuses Archer of aiding fugitives], while the fans went with These Are The Voyages [the appalling series finale that was more a second-season Next Generation ep than an Enterprise ep] and First Flight [Archer reminisces about the rivalry between himself and A.G. Robinson to be the first pilot to break the Warp 2 barrier.
Despite some of the fan choices being for episodes not normally thought to be among the best of their respective series, each episode highlights the strengths – or weaknesses – of its particular captain. The result is a set of episodes that can be enjoyed without necessarily knowing much of whatever else is going on in the Trek universe, while letting us see different sides of the featured captains.
The features vary from disc to disc:
Disc One: Captain James T. Kirk: Intro to the Captain’s Log Fan Collective by William Shatner; Shatner and Joan Collins Intro to city on the Edge of Forever; What Makes a Good Captain?; The Importance of “The Captain’s Log”; Captain Kirk’s Legacy.
Disc Two: Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Intro to In Theory; Intro to Chain of Command [Parts I & II]; Intro to Darmok; The Importance of “The Captain’s Log”; Playing a Captain; Looking Back; Star Trek and the Stage; Picard’s Future.
Disc Three: Captain Benjamin Sisko: Intro to Far Beyond the Stars; A Captain and a Father; Sisko As Emissary; Directing; Imagining the Future; Social Commentary; Aspirations; Star Trek’s Impact.
Disc Four: Captain Kathryn Janeway: Intro to Counterpoint; Intro to The Omega Directive; Intro to Flashback; The Importance of “The Captain’s Log”; Captain Janeway’s Best Qualities; What Makes a Good Captain?; Janeway’s Future; Looking Back.
Disc five: Captain Jonathan Archer: Intro to Judgment; Intro to These Are The Voyages; What Makes a Good Captain?; The Importance of “The Captain’s Log”; Captain Archer’s Best Qualities; Looking Back; Closing Statement to Captain’s Log Fan Collective.
Grade: Star Trek: The Captain’s Log Fan Collective – B+
Grade: Features – A+
Final Grade: B+