Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving all.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lost In Space S1 Ep15: Return From Outer Space

"Bye Ant Clara, thanks for everything."
-Will Robinson leaving Hatfield, Four Corners, Vermont to return home away from home-

The latest covered installment of Lost In Space, Season OneEpisode 15, Return From Outer Space actually arrives amidst an air of sadness within the Lost In Space family with the passing of actress Sheila Mathews Allen (1929-2013).  Allen, the wife of the late Irwin Allen, passed away on Friday, November 15, 2013.  She was 84.  Oddly enough, I actually penned this entry on Saturday, the day after her passing with no knowledge that she had gone.  It was all purely coincidental. And I add this preface after the fact having discovered this information via the Lost In Space Mailing List.  I simply had no idea.  It's nice to be able to acknowledge that loss here.  She makes her first of three appearances in the Lost In Space series beginning here with Return From Outer Space.  Hers is a small role, but she does add a touch of class to an exceptional entry from the series.

To begin, it's always a pleasure to see the return of Debbie the Bloop who muddles along with a series of her trademark 'Blips' as she returns for a brief moment from her appearance in Attack of The Monster Plants.

Penny Robinson, Debbie and the others happen upon the Taurons' Matter-Transfer Unit.  The alien Taurons family appeared in Lost In Space, S1, Ep10, The Sky Is Falling.  So there is indeed a nice bit of serial continuity there.

Performances are universally solid and natural here led by what amounts to a Billy Mumy star vehicle rather reminiscent of those wonderful slice of sci-fi life The Twilight Zone episodes.

Penny and Debbie inadvertently trigger the Matter-Transfer Unit and disappear only to fortunately return a very short time later with no recollection of leaving unlike the escapade Will Robinson himself would soon experience.  The juxtaposition of those two disappearances and Penny and Will's personal experience with them doesn't stand up to reason, but we accept it.  Penny doesn't recall leaving her family, but Will makes an adventure out of it.

Perhaps my memory alludes me, but Return From Outer Space may be the first time the planet of Priplanis is mentioned as the home of the stranded Robinson family.

Before long Will working with The Robot vanishes utilizing the Matter-Transfer Unit.  He disappears and travels all the way to the fictional town of Hatfield, Four Corners, Vermont. Vermont rocks. How and why Will landed there we will never know.  He tells a young boy, Davy Simms, upon his arrival that he travelled all the way from Priplanis. The Simms role was originally slated for Kurt Russell but instead Russell would later appear in Lost In Space, S1, Ep22, The Challenge.

Will attempts a call to Alpha Control. Hardly a soul believes any of Will's story which comes off like a wild little tall tale.  The episode plays a bit like It's A Wonderful Life (1946), Lost In Space-style as Will attempts to convince the locals of who he is in much the same way George Bailey made efforts to convince those in Bedford Falls of who he was. Will arrives and snow is abound along with Christmas trees.  It's all doubly fitting and even gets you excited about Christmas.

Davy's Aunt Clara attempts to humor and placate Will. She even reminisces about the Robinsons' big take off a year earlier from the overcrowded, overpopulated Earth - but apparently not in Hatfield, Four Corners, Vermont.  God blessed all those syrup-lickers and cheese-eaters and if things get ugly on this here planet you will find The Sci-Fi Fanatic there clutching a plastic bottle of dark amber and homemade root beer.  Simply no one believes Will is a Robinson family member or that he arrived via maser beam. It may seem hard to swallow that people don't recognize a member of this relatively famous family, but memories are indeed short so I might be able to swallow that.  Do you remember the crews of a given NASA space flight?

The locals perceive Will to be spinning a pretty interesting "yarn."

A local reporter even plans to run Will's cute and crazy little story and perhaps caution parents to guide their children to steer clear of excessive science fiction stories or serious consequences could ensue like this.  I know I missed the memo on that one. Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic would be in a great deal of hot water in 1965.

Back on Priplanis, the Robinsons are concerned about Will's whereabouts but also intend on destroying the Matter-Tranfer Unit.  The Robot confirms he must maintain a fixed position with the Tauron unit (or he knows Will may never return from Earth). It is imperative Robot not abandon his post.

Back in Vermont, Will is dangerously close to becoming a new addition to the Hatfield Home for Boys.

A gang of those troubled boys quiz Will too disbelieving he is actually part of the first space family.  Will answers everything with sharp scientific accuracy.  He's a boy genius remember yet no one believes him. It does speak to the difficulty one has of proving something know to be true to others when people have a predetermined set of established beliefs.

Will is desperate to make a phone call to Alpha Control with the coordinates of his family's location and time is running out. Will grabs any phone he happens upon, but with the great cost associated with phone calls he is often intercepted from making that call.

Will proves that adults can be pretty close-minded or at least have difficulty believing the truth from a young person.

The town council meets and no one is willing to trust Will Robinson to make a crackpot call they believe to be nothing more than a delusional or overactive imagination of a young boy who has read too many comic books and may be obsessed with science fiction.

Will, while not making much head way with the locals, happens upon a bottle of Carbon Tetrachloride (89 cents) at a local druggist shop and steals it for his family who need it desperately as a chemical for food preservation back on Priplanis.

The sheriff reckons Will is nothing more than the biggest storyteller and locks him up over at Ms. Simms' house in a bedroom.  Ms. Simms offers to make Will part of her family.

Will is simply beside himself Lost In Vermont so to speak and saddened without his family.

Doctor Zachary Smith's efforts to abscond with Robot and reprogram him to prevent him from reporting of his devious ways to the Robinsons continue to fail.  But really, like that really matters at this point. Smith outright lies to Mrs. Robinson at the beginning of the episode and is caught in the lie literally with egg on his face, an alien egg he lies about as he serves himself an omelet.  Smith cannot and should not be trusted him nor should Smith worry about his already incredibly stained and tarnished reputation or lack of character.

Definitely not The Little Rascals (1922-1944).

So Robot launches on back to the Matter-Transfer beam warning Smith to stay back with his fierce display of electrical charges. There is one moment when Robot is whisking away and it's the fastest I've ever seen him move. If you look carefully you can see the ground move a little in the sequence.  He literally is on a kind of board or track.

Thanks to the open mind of Davy Simms he connects with Will and sets him free and escorts him back to his departure point for noon.  He even runs in to the druggist to get Will his Carbon Tetrachloride.

Upon his return to his family back safely on Priplanis he informs his Robinson family of efforts he tried to call Alpha Control but they all thought he was "some kind of nut." Only the Robinsons are just like the folks of Hatfield Four Corners. They have difficulty believing Will was actually in Vermont and often chock up his stories to youthful imagination despite his honesty and impeccable character.  What is with these parents in the 1960s?  Poor Will just can't catch a break.  Bill Mumy was indeed an incredibly good and just adorable child actor.  He may not have it today, but as a kid Mumy just had such presence and literally owned the screen.  The kid was was working on a Leave It To Beaver (1957-1963) and My Three Sons (1960-1972) level for Lost In Space. He was just a pleasure.  No wonder the show acquired a loyal fan base.

Sheila Allen Mathews (1929-2013).

So, even returning with an actual bottle from a Vermont country store wasn't convincing enough for his skeptical family.

Ultimately, the Matter-Transfer Unit explodes, but not before Will has returned safe and sound.

The Epilogue sees the final minutes hint of things to come in the two-parter The Keeper.  Glass cages lure creatures from the planet including that animal Dr. Smith.

Return From Outer Space is like a breath of fresh air following the wilting Attack Of The Monster Plants.  There is some genuinely strong character moments for Will Robinson, Dr. Smith, The Robot, Maureen Robinson and even Major Don West. Not to mention the bulk of the episode takes place in the fictional town of Hatfield Four Corners Vermont with some wonderful interaction between Will and its colorful cast of guest characters that sort of transport us back in time to a period in the world when life wasn't so massively fucked up (excuse my French).  I mean simpler. Of course I wouldn't be writing on a computer either.

Again, there's an almost Bedford Falls-like quality to it and for that reason it's a joy to watch Will desperately struggle to get through to someone in that quaint little, quiet and beautiful town.

We identify with his exasperation in affecting a change in someone's mind that they might believe the plight of this young stranger.  Not only is he young but he's also a stranger.  No one remembers who was on that fateful Robinsons flight but they all understand and recall the magnitude of the event.  There is a real sense of struggle here as Will literally races against the clock.  When you consider the things he logically attempts within his allotted time it all makes perfect sense.

Though unable to contact Alpha Control he does make it home. After all home is where the heart is and his is with his family on Priplanis.  How fascinating he would feel more comfortable in alien space than amongst the strangers of Hatfield, Four Corners, Vermont.  But isn't that true of anyone?  We are very much creatures of our environment.

It's unfortunate the entire family couldn't have taken the Matter-Transfer Unit a little more seriously.  It should have been studied, experimented with and ultimately utilized to transfer all of their asses back to Earth.  What is going on?  The Robinsons are scientists after all, but alas that would be the end of our Lost In Space story.

Plot holes like this one aside, Return From Outer Space is a terrific little entry proving that taking risks in science fiction like this one can pay dividends and lead to massive rewards.  Lost In Space and other science fiction stories genuinely succeed when they are willing to break from script and offer something original and refreshing like this.

Return From Outer Space is undeniably a solid entry from Peter Packer and one that, like the brief appearance of Debbie the Bloop at the beginning, blip, blip, blips its way onto the radar with something really unique and different before returning us to the world of Priplanis. It remains an absolute highlight from Season One and I cannot for the life of me remember seeing this one along the way. For awhile, through Will Robinson, it felt like we were home.  Psychologically, being back with family on Priplanis is more likely his personal return from outer space.

SORRY! To Be Continued. Same Unpredictable Time. Same Unpredictable Blog.

Return From Outer Space: A.
Writer: Peter Packer.
Director: Nathan Juran.

The episode is also notable for the first appearance of Irwin Allen's wife, Sheila Allen Mathews (1929-2013).  She would appear in one episode each season including The Space Vikings (Season Two) and Princess Of Space (Season Three). She was married to Allen in 1974 until his passing.  They were married from 1974-1991.

Oddly enough this post was originally penned on November 16, 2013.  Little did I know at the time of its writing that Sheila Matthews Allen had passed away the day before.  This is posted in her memory.

Sheila Mathews Allen (1929-2013)

The wife of late science fiction legend Irwin Allen, actress Sheila Mathews Allen (1929-2013), passed away on Friday, November 19 at the age 84.

Folks, I don't pretend to have any great knowledge of Sheila Allen and more or less stumbled upon her passing coincidentally for another reason.  I was writing an episode of Lost In Space in which Allen appears.  She would appear in three episodes of Lost In Space - one per season.

Sheila Mathews met producer/ director Irwin Allen while filming Five Weeks In A Balloon (1962).  She also appeared in The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974).  The two married in 1974.

The two were partners in crime in both film and television on Irwin Allen's productions.  Sheila Allen appeared in Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, The Time Tunnel, Land Of The Giants and City Beneath The Sea.

To Lost In Space fans Allen is remembered for her appearance in the impressive Return From Outer Space (Season One), but perhaps more notably for her big role in The Space Vikings (Season Two) and Princess Of Space (Season Three).  She also appeared in American favorite The Waltons.

We offer our thoughts and prayers.

Note the third and final auto image is in full color from her appearance in the black and white Return From Outer Space.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ergo Proxy Ep3: Mazecity & Ep4: Futu-Risk

Since seeing Pacific Rim (2013) in July, I've turned a good deal of my spare time to kaiju and anime. It has certainly infiltrated my infrequent posting and it's been fun to get back to it.  I suspect that pattern will continue in the run up to Christmas.  Can you believe it's almost Christmas? It seems like yesterday I just saw Pacific Rim. Can we enjoy Thanksgiving first?

We continue with the story of Ergo Proxy (2006).  To catch up, here is the summary from the actual DVD of the first volume of four episodes.

MALICE IMPLANTED BY THE CREATOR. The domed city of Romdo is an impenetrable would-be utopia where humans and robots coexist, and everything  is under complete government control, or so it appears.  While working on a mysterious murder case, Re-l Mayer, a female detective from the Intelligence Bureau, receives a foreboding message that something is going to "awaken. That night, she's attacked by a deformed super-being... what was this unidentified monster that attacked her, and who was the figure that cae in between them? As Re-l attempts to unlock this spiraling mystery, a metaphysical battle cry leads her to the unknown outside world...

... outside of Romdo.

It's been some time since I wrote about Episode 1, Awakening (Pulse Of Awakening) and Episode 2, Confession (Confession Of A Fellow Citizen).  The aforementioned first two excellent episodes lay the groundwork for a series that is clearly intended to be a modern, neo-noir mystery filled with a labyrinthine maze of questions spearheaded by the goth-like chick Re-l Mayer.

Often times older anime fans are hard-pressed to get too excited about the more youthful, teen-driven animes featuring big-eyed babes with big breasts.  And let's face it, there's more than enough of those titles available. In other words, for folks like me, there's plenty to pass on. It's easy to get behind a more mature and complex tale like Ergo Proxy. It's also easy to root for someone in anime as completely hot as Re-l Mayer and not feel bad about it.  Her smoking hot factor ranks up there with Misato Katsuragi of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Princess The Swan from Battle Of The Planets. So Re-l Mayer is indeed a hot anime chick for the older set.

My natural predisposition for science fiction falls squarely in the zone of Ergo ProxyErgo Proxy's first volume establishes an interesting plot and its weave of intriguing characters will certainly satiate those adult fans looking for more engaging story complexity.

Thematically, Ergo Proxy firmly lands itself in dystopian realms of science fiction with a touch of horror.  Films that come to mind that share similar alternative appeals include Oblivion (2013), Elysium (2013), Never Let Me Go (2010), Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Minority Report (2002) just to name a few. If you have a predilection for these kinds of worlds than Ergo Proxy is sure to fall comfortably within your wheelhouse of taste or niche of film preferences.

Writer Dai Sato always places great emphasis on story and suffuses his work with doses of the existential and, as the DVD notes suggest, metaphysical concepts. This approach and aspect of his work clearly resonates in Cowboy Bebop, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex and now here in Ergo Proxy. Dai Sato is clearly establishing a welcomed pattern of depth.  Ergo Proxy, through its complex cast of characters, certainly begs the question of existence, self-worth and identity.

With Ergo Proxy, Episode 3, Mazecity (Leap Into The Void) and Episode 4, Futu-Risk (Signs Of Future, Hades Of Future), Sato and the creative team continue to world build upon the place that is Romdo and the vast beyond outside the city walls.  Along with the previously noted themes, characters are constantly attempting to break down the distinction between truth and lies.  Intelligence Bureau Inspector Re-l Mayer, Russian immigrant and AutoReiv Control Division agent Vincent Law, and even young infected AutoReiv companion Pino, become the focal point of the third and fourth installments of the yarn.  Antagonist Mayer clearly questions those in power within Romdo, a perceived utopia, a place that is not quite what it seems.  As she drives to uncover the truth, the mystery pulls us in along with her.  Echoes of Blade Runner (1982) also penetrate the series in characters like Mayer, Law and even replicant-like AutoReiv Pino.

Some nifty AutoReiv Control Division weaponry.

Sato himself offered his own analysis:

"... Set in the future. A group of robots become infected with something called the Kojiro [sic] virus, and become aware of their own existence. So these robots, which had been tools of humans, decide to go on an adventure to search for themselves. They have to decide whether the virus that infected them created their identity, or whether they gained their identity through their travels. This question is meant to represent our own debate over whether we become who we are because of our environment, or because of things that are inherent in us. The robots are all named after philosophers: Derrida and Lacan and Husserl."

Sato genuinely pokes and prods our own contemplation over such age old themes of nature versus nurture throughout Ergo Proxy. It's Philosophy 101 all over, but presented within the context and framework of an inventive, exciting science fiction drama that happens to be a terrific anime.

These latest installments highlighting a world immersed in technology got me to thinking about an essay published in Robot Ghosts And Wired Dreams by Susan J. Napier called When The Machines Stop. In the piece Napier really illuminates a cultural aspect of Japan that certainly bears fruit in Ergo Proxy. Like any art, the influence of politics, economics, culture and climate really influences our state of mind when creating.  Napier sheds some light (not specifically) on why Dai Sato's Ergo Proxy might be the dark, visionary animal that it is.

"Japan endured over ten years of recession starting in the nineties, and it has left a deep mark on contemporary attitudes toward both technology and the future."

Manglobe can draw some eyeballs.

Ergo Proxy is a by-product of that influence. So this aspect, combined with a distrust of government officials and hidden deceits and corruption couldn't be a more timely cautionary tale to our own American woes. 

Without a doubt, the legacy of science fiction certainly plays a role, but the impact of of the aforementioned societal elements certainly can't be discounted or under appreciated.

"Although the country continues to produce important technological advances, the dominant attitude toward technology displayed in both its mass-cultural and high-cultural works seems to be ambivalent at best. This is in significant contrast to Western culture, which, ..., still contains strong elements of techno-celebration...."

This pervasive mood of a nation (Japan) is indeed reflected in Ergo Proxy as much as the atom bomb, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and World War II influenced the science fiction fantasy films of Toho, Ishiro Honda and anime of the 1960s and 1970s.  The affect of our surroundings leaves its indelible mark.  That imprint is undeniable and when artists actually allow the influence of culture into their work, they can often generate something special and something worth talking about.  Whether Ergo Proxy finishes as strong as it begins will be revealed in time.

Outside of the recession, Napier points to the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo incident. The sarin gas attack by a cult on the Tokyo subway as an influence of the problematic nature of the Japanese toward technology. She argues the "shadow" of that incident "still looms" wide casting a kind of societal "malaise." The incident speaks to the "complex" relationship the Japanese have with technology when coupled with a variety of traditional, spiritual or religious teachings. Look no furhter than Miyazaki's own advocacy to respect the traditions and natural treasures of Japan in his every feature. The Japanese see "the dangers of technology" and the "potential powers" it offers. This particular analysis certainly speaks to anime in particular in such resulting series as Serial Experiments Lain (1998), Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)delving into both technology and spirituality, Ghost In The Shell (2002-2005) and here, Ergo Proxy.

There is indeed a graphic novel-like quality to some of the images found in Ergo Proxy.

Mazecity and Futu-Risk generate more questions than answers at this point, despite providing more information, but the pacing and the intrigue is generated in nice fits and starts.  The latest two installments are low on physical action of the kind fans of Hollywood have come to expect and for me, that's a good thing.  As a result it's a much more satisfying, cerebral and mesmerizing story that Ergo Proxy manages to takes us inside its science fiction maze and paint the potential risks of one potential future.  The fact some of its political and technological darkness has arrived already makes it all the more unnerving.

Mazecity (Leap Into The Void): B.
Futu-Risk (Signs Of Future, Hades Of Future): B.