“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”
June 4, 1982: After the commercial and critical oddity that was 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, those of us who were all into the Trek were worried what this sequel might bring. Would it be like the first movie (which was boring as all hell compared to Kirk drop-kicking and karate-chopping a big green lizard), or the TV series we still loved? The TV commercials certainly seemed to imply the latter, with lots of phasers firing and starships blowing the shit out of each other, William Shatner snarling into the camera and Ricardo Montalban flexing his pecs at us. This movie definitely looked like it was going to kick things up a notch. Or three.
Though it doesn’t seem to happen a lot these days, on this occasion? The trailers for this one got it right.
40 years after its release, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khanremains the choice of many fans as being among the best – if not the best – of the Star Trek theatrical films. Pretty much every movie that’s come since is compared to Khan, usually with respect to each successive sequel’s choice of villain. Kruge, Sybok, Chang, Soran, Ru’Afo, Shinzon, Nero, “John Harrison,” or Krall? None of those pansies – even the 2013 redo attempt – hold a candle to Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh, the genetically-engineered mighty man who came to the Final Frontier by way of a 20th century sleeper ship back in the classic first season Star Trek episode “Space Seed.”
Khan and his crew, marooned by Captain Kirk on the remote plant Ceti Alpha V at the end of that episode, are left to their own devices, but a planetary catastrophe soon after their arrival forced them into a constant struggle for simple survival. By the time another starship arrives, the U.S.S. Reliant commanded by Captain Clark Terrell and with former Enterprise crewman Pavel Chekov serving as its first officer, Khan’s pretty much gone ’round the bend. Seizing control of the Reliant by means of one of those cool movie critters that turn people into obedient zombies, Khan sets off to unleash BLOODY VENGEANCE on the man responsible for his downfall: James T. Kirk.
Oh, it’s on now.
Directed by Nicholas Meyer from a story by veteran TV producer Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards (who also wrote the original screenplay, which Meyer then rewrote….in 12 days), Star Trek II hits almost every right note and avoids the pitfalls which tripped up its theatrical predecessor. The humor as well as the friendships and camaraderie shared by Kirk and his crew–all but absent from the first film–are here to lend perfect balance to the drama and tension driving most of the story. Even the color palette is warmer this time around, from the red paint on the Enterprise doors to the crew uniforms, which now look more like something of a natural progression from those of the original series.
Montalban, reprising his role from “Space Seed,” pulls out all the stops as the maniacal Khan, obsessed with avenging himself upon Admiral James T. Kirk. Strong efforts from supporting actors Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield and Kirstie Alley in her first film role round out a solid performance by the main cast (wild-eyed “KHAAAAAN!” bit from William Shatner notwithstanding). Though some footage of the Enterprise is lifted from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there are plenty of new space scenes to satisfy the Trekkie tech heads among us. James Horner’s musical score, shifting with ease between quiet contemplation and rousing action, is a bow tying up the whole sweet package.
As originally scripted, the film brings with it the death of Spock, who sacrifices himself in order to save the Enterprise from certain destruction. This was done to honor a request from actor Leonard Nimoy, who had decided Star Trek II would be his last performance of his most popular character. However, as the story goes, he also held out for the opportunity to direct the next Star Trek film (should there be one). What’s fuzzy is where along that timeline he came to terms with continuing to portray Spock on screen, as we all know what happened with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
Unlike Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there was very little in the way of merchandise tying into the new film. Chief among the paltry offerings was the novelization of the movie’s script, written by Vonda N. McIntyre. In those days, the novelization for a feature film might show up in stores weeks ahead of the movie’s release. Such was the case with Star Trek II, and I obtained my copy thanks to my sister who was looking out for me one Saturday in May 1982 when she went shopping with our mother. Thanks to her, I had in my hands the story for the film well ahead of its release date, and yet…..I somehow resisted the urge to read the book before seeing the movie with my pals on Release Day.
As it happens, I ended up seeing it a bunch of times that summer. Then I read the book, and as tended to happen back in those days, I ended up reading it a few times over the ensuing years.
If this film had failed, it arguably could’ve been the death knell for Kirk and the Enterprise gang. Instead, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a critical and commercial success, ensuring the aforementioned sequel and bringing with it a fresh new energy to what we now call “the Star Trek franchise.” It paved the way for future sequels and the eventual television spin-offs, along with merchandising and other licensing ventures that continue to this day.
“I feel young.”
Shit, I feel old.
Happy 40th Anniversary, Star Trek II. Surely, the best of times.
On this evening 83 years ago, Orson Welles and the cast of CBS radio seriesThe Mercury Theater on the Air set out to present a new episode of their weekly program. For this latest installment, the 17th of the still fairly new program, Welles and his company of actors performed an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ seminal science fiction novel from 1898, The War of the Worlds.
Perform they did…to such a successful degree that a whole bunch of people listening to the show that night apparently lost their minds, certain in the knowledge that Earth was being invaded by aliens from Mars.
Updating Wells’ story so that the action takes place the “present day” of that night in 1938, Welles along with writer Howard Koch also moved the events from Victorian London to Grover Mill, New Jersey. The adaptation presented The War of the Worlds as a series of radio news broadcasts pretending to interrupt other “regular” programming. Many of those who missed the announcement at the start of the show or Welles’ remarks at the end of the broadcast actually thought they were hearing real news interruptions reporting disturbances in and around Grovers Mill, along with frightening descriptions of the otherworldly machines and the destruction they were wreaking as they advanced across the countryside.
Accounts vary as the effectiveness of the unintended ruse as well as public reaction, but we know CBS received a number of phone calls both from private citizens as well as police asking what Welles and his group were smoking thinking to pull such a crazy stunt. There was also speculation that newspapers–dealing with drops in revenue as more people tuned into radio programs to get their news–may even have exaggerated the reports of panic as a means of “punching back” against radio as a credible news source, particularly if they allowed such irresponsible decisions as allowing fictional programs to “masquerade” as news.
The broadcast long ago earned its place in pop culture. It remains remains a staple of Halloween programming on radio stations to this day. Schools and radio stations often perform their own versions of the play, and it has been officially updated/remade on at least two separate occasions, including one performance by L.A. Theatre Works and featuring Leonard Nimoy, John DeLancie and a host of other actors from the different Star Trek series.The original broadcast has been referenced and parodied or provided story springboards in numerous films, television series, books and comics, and the events of the invasion at Grovers Mill even were included into the backstory of the War of the Worlds television series, itself a sequel to the 1953 film.
In 1988 as part of the the program’s 50th anniversary celebration, AT&T video newsmagazine Directions interviewed surviving telephone operators from across the United States who were working that evening, and dealt with the huge influx of calls from terrified listeners. Decades before cell phones or even 911, operators were the first point of contact for those seeking emergency assistance. Needless to say, those folks had an interesting evening. Check out an archived version of the video at the AT&T Archives: “Operators Help Save the World from Martians.”
Meanwhile, you can listen to the original broadcast available for free by visiting this link on YouTube:
A group of scientists and military officers at a remote Arctic outpost near the North Pole discover a mysterious craft buried in ice. They also find a body, similarly entombed, and excavate it from its frozen grave.
And — as things tend to do in stories of this sort — everything goes straight to Hell, for what they have discovered is not a human or indeed like anything on Earth. Instead, what they’ve found is….
Following premieres in Cincinnati and Dayton as well as Washington, D.C., The Thing from Another World stomped its way onto theater screens across the United States on April 7th, 1951, seventy years ago today. The film’s screenplay was written by Charles Lederer, loosely adapting John W. Campbell, Jr.’s seminal 1938 novella Who Goes There? (originally published as a 12-capter serial in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction under Campbell’s pen name, Don A. Stuart).
You can tell I have no pressing writing deadlines when I have time for more fanciful pursuits such as this. In between a bunch of reading for the consulting gig, I decided to add another entry to this irregularly recurring blog feature, even though the previous installment was just a couple of weeks ago. I know…daring, amirite?
For those new to this bit of distraction, “Tied Up With Tie-ins” is where I take a look back at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. This usually means something older, such as the many different tie-ins which were all over the place decades ago. Examples include novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, and Space: 1999 among others. I’m not snobby about newer stuff, though, as I’ve previously written about novels based on one of my favorite TV series of the 21st century, 24.
For this latest installment, your mission — should you choose to accept it — is to take a trip with me down Memory Lane as we revisit the handful of novels tying into Mission: Impossible…both the classic TV series as well as the feature films….
With the most pressing of deadlines out of the way – at least for the moment – I’ve got a bit more time for more leisurely pursuits, and that includes yammering about various favorite topics. Among those are waxing nostalgic about books of old, and that includes film and TV tie-ins. It was this love of such fondly remembered tomes that made me start this irregularly recurring blog feature, “Tied Up With Tie-ins.” It goes like this: every once in a while, I take a look back at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. More often than not, this means something from those thrilling days of yesteryear with novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, and Space: 1999 among others. I’m also up for taking a gander at more recent entries to the genre if the mood strikes, like a recent entry in which I babbled at length about novels based on one of my favorite TV series of the 2000s, 24.
For this latest installment, I’ve decided to change things up a bit by flipping the formula, beginning with a novel that spawned a popular feature film, a legendary television series, and more novels of its own: MASH.
So, yeah. I haven’t been around here much these past couple of weeks. I promise it’s because I’ve been busy. Even with the holidays, there’s still a list of things to do, deadlines to meet, and projects to keep juggling even as we prepare to kick 2020’s ass all the way to the curb and then stomp it to the painful death it so richly deserves. As such, things like the blog, already far from the most happenin’ place on the intrawebz, has fallen a tad into neglect. I don’t expect that to change too much so long as the novel in-progress continues to occupy the center of my plate, but hopefully I can finish out this year on a high note.
For instance, we have this latest installment of my irregularly recurring blog feature “Tied Up With Tie-ins.” It goes like this: every once in a while, I take a look back at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. More often than not, this means something from those thrilling days of yesteryear with novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, and Space: 1999 among others. I’m also up for taking a gander at more recent entries to the genre if the mood strikes, like the previous entry where I yammered a bit about novels based on the TV series 24.
This latest installment is probably going to be pretty short as we’re talking about a TV project that has very limited tie-in presence. Indeed, I didn’t even know there was such a thing for this property until just a month or so ago. As it happens, this is a relatively new development, which can be a lot of fun for someone who loves this particular publishing niche. Example: me.
Anyway, what are we talking about this time? It’s a little known, oft-overlooked television film from 1975 called The Day After Tomorrow or, as it was known in the United Kingdom, Into Infinity.
It’s been a while since I last added an entry to this irregularly recurring blog series, but hey! It’s actually something of a quiet day at Ward Manor so I figured it was a good time to freshen things up a bit around here.
The idea behind this oddball series is fairly simple: Every so often I take a stroll down Memory Lane with a nostalgic look at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. Most of the time this has meant something from Way Back When, such as visits with novels based on Planet of the Apes, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, and Space: 1999 among others. I’m also up for taking a gander at more recent entries to the genre if the mood strikes (hint: keep reading). Then there are anomalies like the novels that kinda sorta tie into the Die Hard franchise, because I was feeling froggy one evening.
For this latest entry I’ve decided y’all need to stock up on certain catchphrases like “Damn it!” and “Trust me!” and maybe even one or two shots of “Chloe, there’s no time!” Yep, we’re diving into the realm of novels featuring everybody’s favorite troubled counterterrorist agent, Jack Bauer, and the world of 24.
I originally wrote what follows little intro here ten years ago while conducting one my now long-defunct “Wayback Review” installments. Most of those were random Star Trek episode but I opted to turn my attention to the Arnold Schwarzenegger combat classic, Commando, on the occasion of its then 25th birthday.
It’s ten years later and this flick has only further cemented itself as one of the best shamelessly over-the-top action movies of the 1980s. I can still watch this without any prompting or reason other than it’s just silly fun.
Commando was released 35 years ago today on October 4th, 1985. I didn’t get to see this during its original theatrical run because by October 4th I was three days into my extended stay at Parris Island, South Carolina, courtesy of the United States Marine Corps and their awesome travel agency and vacation club for new members.
It wasn’t until I made it to my first permanent assignment at Camp Pendleton in California in the spring of 1986 that I found this gem at a discount theater (remember those). VHS rentals soon followed before I finally obtained a copy of my own, and years later I upgraded to DVD when they released an “unrated” cut of the film. The only reason I’ve not yet ugraded to Blu-ray for this title is that said extended version is not available in this format, and to that I say, “The hell is that about?”
So, here we are…35 years after the film’s release. Does it hold up? Let’s take a stroll down Memory Lane and see for ourselves, why don’t we? Though I’ve gone through and tweaked things here and there and freshened up a joke or two, this is pretty much the “live-watch review” I wrote ten years ago:
Colonel John Matrix is a retired bad-ass. Living with his daughter Jenny in a secluded cabin in the middle of Nowhere, he just wants to be left alone, but that’s not to be. You see, three of Matrix’s former Special Ops soldiers have been murdered. Somebody’s targeting Matrix and members of his team, for reasons unknown, and even though Matrix and his men have been given new identities (also for reasons unknown). Matrix’s old commanding officer, General Kirby, warns him whoever’s behind this will soon find him, too. Kirby leaves two Special Ops dudes with Matrix for protection while he heads “into the city” to coordinate with law enforcement in some mysterious manner which will prevent the killers from reaching Matrix.
By my watch, the first Special Ops dude goes down about twenty seconds after Kirby leaves. His buddy takes rounds, too. So much for the protection plan. Matrix instructs Jenny to hide while he retrieves a pistol and rifle from the fucking arsenal he’s got in the back of his tool shed. Now suitably armed and ready to receive visitors, Matrix returns to the house to get Jenny, and finds a guy sitting in her room. The dude and his pals have Matrix’s daughter, and they’ll be holding her for safekeeping as a guarantee Matrix will cooperate, right?
To this day, I feel sorry for the idiots who take this guy’s kid. That’s just some dumbshit idea-hatchin’, right there.
“Wrong,” Matrix says and puts a round through the asshole’s head, and we’re off and runnin’, bitches. Matrix is goin’ Bandit….Reynolds Style!
Matrix bolts outside, seeing a pair of vehicles hauling ass away from the house. When he finds the kidnappers have ripped the innards out of his own truck, he does what any sensible person would do in a similar situation….he pushes the truck down a slope and jumps behind the wheel, steering the truck (sort of) as it careens without brakes down the side of the mountain. Try that shit on for size, Duke boys.
Movie geography being what it is, Matrix is able to attempt side-swiping or simply colliding with the getaway cars twice during their transit down the mountain and its various switchbacks or whatever. He almost pulls it off, too, but instead ends up in a ditch. The kidnappers try to apprehend him and he makes a few of them regret that shit, but the numbers aren’t on his side and he’s finally wrestled to the ground. Matrix looks up to see one of his old Special Ops buddies, Bennett, dressed like Freddie Mercury trying to fit in with Hell’s Angels. He faked his death while helping these mercenary dicks to kill the other members of Matrix’s team. Apparently, he’s still pissed Matrix tossed his ass out of their unit years ago, and he’s just been itchin’ for some payback.
Oh, and today’s Pay Day, because this can’t be a 1980s action movie without a tagline like that.
After being shot with a tranquilizer dart which—if I’m not mistaken—might well be used to sedate moderately sized whales, Matrix wakes up to find himself chained to a table and with a bunch of ass-clowns looking down at him. Leading the ass-clown posse is a weasly-looking prick named Arius, a former dictator who once was unseated from his regime by Matrix and his team. He wants to return to power in his home country of Val Verde, and he’ll do that once Matrix assassinates the current leader. Matrix resists at first, of course, but since Arius is holding Jenny hostage and threatening to kill her, he sees no choice but to agree to the “assignment,” which in 80s MovieSpeak means every single swinging dick in that room along with a lot of other swinging dicks wandering through this movie are all doomed.
Matrix is taken by Bennett and some of Arius’ mercenary ass-clowns to the airport, from which he’ll fly with one of said ass-clowns to Val Verde in order to carry out his mission. Before Bennett can leave, Matrix warns him: “I’ll be back, Bennett.” Hey, that’s a pretty good line. I wonder if it’ll catch on? Escorted by two of Bennett’s doofuses (doofi?), Henriques and Sully, through what passes for airport security in 1985, Matrix is taken to the gate for his flight to Val Verde. Sully sticks some money in his pocket, advising him to have a few beers and give the gang more time with Jenny.
Why is it always the scrawny shits who talk tough? Dude, you really went there? Really? Any dad in the real world is gonna gut you for saying something like that. Say it to an Action Movie Daddy and you might as well just cut off your own balls and save everybody some time. Matrix offers up one of his better lines from the whole movie: “You’re a funny guy, Sully. I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.” Aw, yeah.
Matrix and Henriques board the plane and get to their seats, where Henriques warns our hero to keep his mouth shut. Matrix responds my caving in the dude’s nose before breaking his neck. Yeah, that’s gonna leave a mark. Matrix 2 – Bad Guys 0.
The plane starts to taxi down the runway, leaving Matrix with few options for getting off. In this Hollywood, pre-9/11 world, he’s able to get up from his seat *and* take the elevator to the plane’s lower level, where he accesses a maintenance hatch near the front landing gear. I can see some of you out there rolling your eyes at the absurdity of this, but if you’ve managed to make it this far and not scoff at Sully’s leisure suit, you can get past this next part. Speaking of Sully, he doesn’t see what happens next, as he’s heading out for a little “me time.” So, he misses Matrix crawling out through the access hatch and down onto the landing gear. The plane picks up speed and he waits for his chance, and wouldn’t you know it? Its runway lets it take off right over some marshland. Good thing it wasn’t the I-5, eh? Shucking his sport coat, which isn’t needed for the forthcoming ass beatings he’ll be administering in due course, Matrix sets the countdown timer on his watch for eleven hours, the approximate duration of the flight to Val Verde. His mission now? Find his daughter before the plane lands and Arius and his people figure out they’ve been had.
In the airport, Sully contacts Arius and lets him know Matrix and Henriques are on the plane, bound for Val Verde. Arius, along with Bennett and Jenny, are boarding a boat for who the hell knows where, with Arius figuring by this time tomorrow, he’ll be back in power. Jenny figures by this time tomorrow, Arius will be breathing through a new hole in his taint. Which one’s right? I know where I’m putting my chips. All in, bitchez!
Sprinting back across the tarmac to the airport, Matrix is hoping he might catch Sully before the little toady bastard can get clear of the airport. Lucky for Matrix, Sully’s got his eye on a hot flight attendant. He’s so distracted Matrix has no problem following him to the parking garage. I mean, let’s face it: you have to be some kind of blind-ass stupid not to see a guy like Matrix tailing you. That, or horny.
In the garage, the flight attendant tells Sully to tie a knot in his dick, and no sooner is he gone than the flight attendant feels a hand on her neck: Matrix. He needs her help to continue following Sully, and in order to be inconspicuous in her dinky little convertible, he does what most of us would do when faced with such a challenge: he rips out the passenger seat so he can get down low enough not to be seen. I mean, that’s right out of my very own covert automobile surveillance handbook (soon to be available exclusively in the Kindle format from Amazon.com!). Sully hits the streets, with Matrix and his unwilling helper, Cindy, following close behind. They make their way to the Galleria, which as all Arnie fans know is the same mall that a cyborg from the future—looking a lot like Matrix—will one day fight another cyborg from the future while trying to protect the future savior of the human race.
Sully, on the other hand, is just here for a drink, some shady business, and hopefully to get laid.
Once in the mall, Matrix and Cindy track Sully to a restaurant, where Sully is meeting with a business partner of some sort. Matrix sends Cindy in to try and draw Sully out to where he can beat his ass, but she instead goes to one of the mall cops and tells them about Matrix and what a crazy fucknugget he is. While Sully and his friend conduct some under-the-table business, the mall cop checks out Matrix and calls for backup to try and take him into custody. As the covert mall-cop cordon tightens around Matrix, Sully notices Cindy skulking about the restaurant. “I knew it!” he proclaims. “It’s gotta be my suit. Chicks can’t get enough of these fine threads.”
As Matrix watches the restaurant from his hiding spot, he becomes aware of the mall cops closing in on him. They try to escort him to Mall Jail or wherever, but Matrix knows if he lets these guys take him, he’ll never hear the end of it at the monthly Retired Bad Ass Special Ops Dudes meetings. “Mall cops? Really? I’d rather get beat down by the gate guard at a Hollywood film studio, bro.” And so on.
Sully, trying out a new set of moves on Cindy, suddenly notices Matrix beating the shit out of a platoon of mall cops, and realizes he’s been followed and Matrix has blown “The Plan” all to hell. Son of a bitch! He’s gotta call Arius! He fumbles for his cellphone and…oh, wait. This is 1985. He fumbles for a quarter to stick in the pay phone. Matrix gets to him before Sully can dial the call and rips the whole phone booth out of its mounting. Sully, understandably terrified out of his fucking mind, runs for it, leaving Matrix to deal with a fresh group of mall cops. Diving into an elevator, Sully thinks he might just get away, at least until Matrix does a Tarzan off the mall’s upper deck and swings himself to the top of the elevator. While Matrix has to beat the shit out of more security guys, Sully makes it back to his car and hauls ass. Matrix follows in Cindy’s car, stopping just long enough to pick up Cindy, who now realizes he’s been telling the truth all along. Way to get on the bandwagon, lady.
The chase winds through city streets and into the suburbs and isolated roads beyond, with Matrix hot on Sully’s ass, until Matrix finally manages to run Sully’s car off the road where it ends up on its side. The car with Matrix and Cindy smashes head-on into a phone pole. I always crack up when Matrix looks over and asks, “Are you all right?” especially since both of them by all rights should’ve gone sailing through the windshield and over the cliff.
Satisfied that Cindy’s not injured, Matrix ambles on over to where Sully’s crawling out from his overturned car. He searches the little turd’s pockets and finds a hotel room key. Hmm….a clue, gang! Matrix starts roughing up Sully, wanting to know where his daughter is, and when Sully doesn’t respond to his polite questions, Matrix changes tactics. Carrying Sully over to the nearby cliff, Matrix holds him out over the ledge by an ankle, using only one hand like the bad ass he is. Sully tries to pass himself off as having information Matrix needs, but Matrix knows better, and this is where he provides part 1 of The Best Line of the Whole Damned Movie:
MATRIX: Remember, Sully? When I promised to kill you last?
SULLY: That’s right, Matrix! You did!
MATRIX: I lied.
When he drops Sully, everybody in the theater cheers as the little shit’s body bounces off the rocks below. See ya. Wouldn’t wanna be ya.
With Cindy’s car out of commission, Matrix just flips Sully’s back onto its wheels. Take quick note of all the damage to the driver’s side of the car. Presto Chango! It’s all fixed the next time you see it. Cindy asks Matrix what he did with Sully, and Matrix’s response is part 2 of the aforementioned Best Line of the Whole Damned Movie: “I let him go.”
Matrix 3 – Bad Guys 0.
Using keen investigative skills and the key he snatched from Sully’s pocket, Matrix and Cindy make their way to the Sunspot Motel. Using the key, they enter Sully’s room and find nothing…other than the fact Sully’s a fucking slob. As they’re working, there’s a knock on the door. It’s Cooke, Sully’s fellow goon and one of the guys who was killing Matrix’s men at the start of the flick. Matrix hides and has Cindy open the door, pretending to be Sully’s date. She lets Cooke in and Matrix gets the drop on him, and a knock-down drag-out fight ensues. Cooke draws a pistol but Matrix is on him and bullets go flying all over the place. Still, this guy can hold his own, it seems, but Matrix finally manages to drop-kick his ass through the door to the next room, which—as always happens in these movies—is occupied by a young dude just trying his best to get a little action.
We pause at this juncture, to admire, salute, and applaud what God chose to give the guy’s girlfriend so far as the mammary department is concerned.
After a few more punches, kicks, and jabs to the junk, Matrix roundhouse punches Cooke back into Sully’s room, where the dude gets impaled on the leg of a broken coffee table. Wow. That’s just not good for anybody. As Cindy starts to blow chunks in the corner, Matrix asks the dying Cooke where Jenny’s being held, but the guy’s already checked out. Score another one for Matrix. A search of the dead man’s pockets turns up little, but in his car’s glove box Cindy finds a receipt for aircraft fuel from a depot in the area. Perhaps there’s a clue to be found there. To the Cookemobile!
At the fuel depot, Matrix has a look-see and worms his way into one of the warehouses, where he observes what looks to be a whole lotta mercenaries checking over various military weapons and equipment. Finding the office, Matrix beats the shit out of some poor schmuck, clearing the way for Cindy to join him. He finds a series of navigational charts and some coordinates, and figures out Arius and his people are flying back and forth between the mainland and a small island off the coast. That must be the location of Arius’ Secret Hidden Lair of Evil! Matrix plans to go there, but not before he stops to do some shopping.
Finding a military surplus store, Matrix uses a bulldozer to bust into the place, and then proceeds to load up a shopping cart with all sorts of equipment, guns, knives, grenades, and other shit that goes “Boom!” Blue Light Special on the ammo aisle! Of course he finds the “secret room” all surplus stores have (No, really), which contains the really high-grade military firepower. “State of the art bang-bang!” as Clarence Boddiker might one day say. What? You don’t know who that is? Shame on you.
Anyway….after getting pretty much anything a budding Commando might ever want (except for the phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range, of course), Matrix sends Cindy to the car in preparation to boogie when the cops finally decide to show up. Man, we don’t have time for this shit! Matrix only has five hours until the plane lands in Val Verde and Arius knows he screwed them. The cops toss Matrix into a paddy wagon for transport, and Cindy follows after them. She even pulls up alongside the van, and the cops are too busy trying to look down her shirt to notice the guns, ammo, and rocket launcher she’s got in her back seat. However, they notice the launcher when she fires a rocket up their ass (after a “practice shot” that blows up a bus shelter. Whoops.). The next shot takes out the van, knocking it on its side and allowing Matrix to bust out, and they get gone.
Matrix and Cindy find the docks where Arius’ amphibious plane is tied up, and after loading all that shitload of gear Matrix stole from the surplus store, they make a fast getaway as some of Arius’ men show up. In the finest Hollywood tradition, Cindy is an amateur pilot working toward her pilot’s license, and even though she’s only trained on one type of plane, she’s able to start this WWII-era rust-bucket and get it in the air without so much as checking to see if there’s a quick-reference card in the glove compartment.
Back at the surplus store, General Kirby is surveying the chaos Matrix has wrought. He knows his boy is on the hunt, but has no idea where Matrix might be going, so he orders all military, law enforcement and marine radio bands monitored in the off chance Matrix tries to make contact. Hopefully, that might occur before Matrix hate-fucks the shit out of a small country or something.
Meanwhile, in his Secret Hidden Lair of Evil, Arius and Bennett wait for word of Matrix’s success in Val Verde. They’ve stuck Jenny in an empty room, but she’s getting bored and has started looking for a way out. Looks like Daddy taught her a few tricks. As for Bennett, he’s singularly unimpressed with the schoolyard punks playing soldier that Arius has hired for his private army. He warns Arius his asshole should be puckering, because Matrix will be coming, one way or another.
Yeah, it’s gonna get nasty.
With time running out, the plane arrives at the island and Matrix uses a rubber raft from his equipment stash to get to shore. Once there, he gears up for the hell he’s about to unleash. Remember, this is Arnie in his 1985 prime, so the montage of Matrix donning his equipment and marking himself up in pretty useless fashion with camo paint is enough to evoke somewhat confused chubbies of varying length and stiffness from every single dude at your local gun range-slash-microbrewery-slash-tattoo parlor-slash-bargain basement strip joint that’s only open during daylight hours:
At the same time our favorite commando is maneuvering into position to attack Arius’ compound, the plane arrives in Val Verde and some local goons are on hand to pick up Henriques and Matrix. Imagine their surprise when they see Henriques’ body, and Matrix is nowhere to be found? Uh, oh. This can’t be good, right? Since it’s still 1985, they gotta get to a payphone in order to call Arius, giving Matrix a little more time to lay out some bombs, booby traps and other nifty toys.
Arius gets the call Matrix wasn’t on the plane, and orders Bennett to kill Jenny. As the mercenary makes his way to do just that, guards are starting to notice an intruder in their midst. We’re up to 9, 10…14 ticks on the Matrix Body Count as alarms start wailing, and Matrix finally says “Fuck this,” and blows up a couple of buildings. That’s when I officially lose count of how many dudes proceed to eat it in all sorts of grisly ways. Hearing the carnage outside, Bennett nearly soils himself in anticipation, but manages to hold it in as he heads to the room where Jenny’s stashed. But wait! Jenny’s managed to escape, the resourceful little minx! Now mightily pissed off, Bennett sets off in pursuit.
As Cindy makes contact with General Kirby and asks him to send in the cavalry, Matrix is continuing his systematic disembowelment of Arius’ compound, killing everyone and blowing up everything in his path. I’m pretty sure he even took out a bunny rabbit with a Claymore mine. Making his way closer to the mansion, it doesn’t matter how many bad guys there are; he’s slicing through them like a razor through wet Kleenex. When he runs out of ammo for one weapon, he just pulls another one—from his belt, his vest, or some orifice leading to a gun locker in another dimension. When that doesn’t work, he just picks up bad guy guns and uses those, too.
Oh, but wait! A lucky grenade lands nearby and peppers him with a bit of shrapnel. Wounded but still mobile, Matrix crawls to a conveniently-located tool shed. After checking his injuries and deciding it’s just a bloody flesh wound(!), Matrix gets ready for the goons to assault the shed, which they do by emptying their weapon magazines into the building. Of course they never shoot above or below chest level, so it’s just a matter of guessing whether Matrix dropped to the floor or climbed into the rafters. Let’s see what happens, shall we?
One of the goons opens the shed door, and gets a pitchfork in the chest for his trouble. Matrix is up in the rafters, and armed balls-out with the finest domestic weaponry Home Depot can provide. Circular saw blades—which apparently combine the physical properties of ninja stars with the lethality of a light saber—along with machetes to chop off limbs and axes to bury in crotches (Um….ow.) are all he needs to get the drop on his attackers. Then he grabs an M-60 machinegun, at which time the smart guards turn and run like hell.
The dumb ones? Yeah. Their day takes a turn toward total shit. As Matrix uses the M-60 to chew through the next line of guards, he makes his way into the mansion and finally faces off against Arius himself. There’s a running gunfight through the house until Matrix finally empties a shotgun into the tinpot dictator’s chest.
Man. That was pretty anti-climactic.
But wait! There’s still Bennett, who’s chased Jenny into a basement/boiler room/brewery/whatever. He catches her just as Matrix closes in, but Bennett manages to put a bullet in him. There’s some macho bullshit talk before Matrix convinces him to toss away the guns and have a good old-fashioned big dick knife fight. “Come on Bennett. Let’s party!” Naturally, being an insecure crybaby, Bennett takes up Matrix’s offer and the two start to tango. You can almost hear the awesomely funky Kirk/Spock fight music from “Amok Time” (for the uninitiated, that’s the Star Trek episode where Mr. Spock goes crazy because he’s horny and has to get home to bone his betrothed wife, and as will happen on Star Trek, he and Captain Kirk end up fighting over her).
Anyway, back to the action!
Matrix and Bennett face off, mano e mano, knives poking and slicing and trying to land a cut. Bennett scores the first strike, which pretty much just pisses off Matrix, and after a brief scuffle the two go flying off a catwalk to the boiler room’s lower level. There’s some smacking with pipes, boiler doors, and trying to push each other’s face into the fire. Matrix kicks Bennett into an electrical panel, but that only seems to juice him up for more punchin’ and kickin’. It looks like Bennett might have the upper hand, but then Matrix rallies and pretty much pummels the shit out of Bennett before skewering him with a hunk of pipe that ends up with one end embedded into what looks like a monster water cooler, with steam erupting from the other end. Yeah, Bennett’s done, so what does Matrix think about that? Say it with me:
“Let off some steam, Bennett.”
With Arius and all of his goons dispatched, Matrix and Jenny have a happy reunion before Kirby and his unit arrives just in time to clean up the mess. “Leave anything for us?” Kirby asks. “Just bodies,” replies Matrix. Boo-yah.
Kirby asks Matrix to come out of retirement, but Matrix tells him to suck it. This is the last time, at least until a sequel comes along, but Matrix isn’t in any hurry. In addition to having Jenny back safe, it seems Cindy has no pressing plans to be elsewhere right this moment. Meee-yow.
Between 1984’s The Terminator and 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it seemed like Arnold Schwarzenegger was in a lot of bad movies. It’s fair to say most of them sucked some form of donkey balls, from old and shriveled to huge and bursting, depending on your particular kink. The best Arnie film from this period, in my opinion, is Predator, but of the ones that are left? Commando makes a pretty decent stab at being the next best flick. It’s certainly among the more entertaining efforts of those years.
Commando makes no bones about what it is: A stripped-down, quintessential over-the-top 80s action flick, of the sort being cranked out during this period time like meth in rural Missouri. We’re talking about the era of heavyweights like Arnie and Sylvester Stallone in their prime, with potential contenders for their title like Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, and (yes, I’m saying it with a straight face) Jean-Claude Van Damme still a few years away. Even Mel Gibson hadn’t quite arrived yet, despite the success of The Road Warrior which would pave the way for the first of the Lethal Weapon films. From its corny, testosterone-fueled dialogue and wink-wink humor (“I eat Green Berets for breakfast, and right now I’m very hungry!”), ridiculous stunts, one-dimensional characters and mustache-twisting bad guys surrounded by non-thinking cannon fodder, Commando is a brain-dead action fest, but it’s a damned fun brain-dead action fest. None of the various clones and knockoffs ever seemed to compete with it, for one reason or another. Even Arnold’s other efforts in this vein, like Raw Deal or Red Heat, fail to match Commando for sheer goofy fun.
Yep, this flick has heinous levels of violence, particularly at the end of the film when Matrix is cutting through Arius’ men (figuratively and literally) like a Ka-Bar through MRE peanut butter. If anybody on The A-Team had ever actually been able to hit anything they shot at, it might’ve looked a lot like this. Holy Moses, but do some bullets fly. It’s so ludicrous that one man could unleash this level of carnage, but it’s Arnie, so we let it ride.
Cool Trivia: There’s actually a script for a sequel to Commando floating around the net, based at least in some part on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. When Schwarzenegger passed on the idea of a sequel, the script was reworked and eventually became the original Die Hard.
I also read there are plans afoot to remake Commando. Um, why?
If you want one of the poster children for 80s ActionPorn, look no farther than Commando. Come on; let’s party.
I’m not much of a gamer. I mean, I’ve played and occasionally still do play the odd computer or board game, but I’m not a “Gamer With a Capital G.” At best I’m a casual hobbyist, despite generally enjoying myself whenever I venture forth into this realm. If I’m being honest, my heyday for gaming likely peaked in the early 1980s with the advent of videogame arcades before plateauing during the years with the first games I bought for what I now laughingly call my first home computers or game systems.
We’re talking the age of the Commodore 64 and the Atari 2600/5200, kids, which at the time were the absolute cat’s meow. The first Nintendo systems were years away at that point, and ended up being something for which I didn’t have much time. Way back when, the systems we had for home use paled in comparison to the fun one could have at the local arcade though. Tron, Gyruss, Star Wars, Defender, and I long ago forgot the sheer number of quarters I dropped into a Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator game whenever I happened across one, and those of you who follow me with any regularity know I still have an upright cabinet version in my home office.
Still, as home computing (and home computer gaming) technology improved, I did sample the odd game. If it wasn’t an early first-person shooter or adventure game, as often as not it’d be some flavor of Star Trek game. The C64 had a decent port of the Strategic Operations Simulator that even looked better than the original arcade version, but there were also text-based adventures like The Kobayashi Alternative and The Promethean Prophecy, and by 1990s we were getting some pretty decent offerings like Star Trek: 25th Anniversary and its sequel, Judgment Rites. By the end of the 20th century (it feels so weird to write that, yeah?), games like Starfleet Academy were pushing the limits of what gamers could experience on their home computer systems.
(Aside: You have to know I still have these and others stashed in a box somewhere.)
Released in the UK on September 15th and celebrating the 20th anniversary of its US release today, Elite Force was one of Star Trek‘s early forays into the now quite-popular realm of first-person shooters.” For those unfamiliar with the term, these are video games where everything in the game is presented as if from your personal point of view. You can only see what’s in front of you, you have to navigate the game’s scenarios and obstacles as though actually traversing a tunnel, space ship, jungle, or whatever. This usually involves a lot of shooting at various things that want to eat or otherwise kill you. Long before Fortnite and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order begged for my children’s attention, we had games like Doom, Duke Nukem, and Star Wars: Dark Forces (another kick-ass game from days gone by).
At first blush, Star Trek having a game which could fit into this particular genre might seem off-putting, as Star Trek generally doesn’t evoke lots of images of ground combat or other situations where you’re blowing the shit out of things and people and whatnot. However, Activision and Raven Software managed a truly impressive feat with Elite Force: marrying an actual, bonafide Star Trek story to a first-person shooter setup.
You, the player, take on the persona of a character who’s part of Voyager‘s “Hazard Team,” a rapid-response group that could be described as something like Star Trek‘s version of a SEAL team. Voyager and its crew find themselves attacked by marauders and trapped in a graveyard of alien ships, you and the Hazard Team are dispatched to investigate. Along the way, you encounter various species previously encountered on the Voyager TV series like the Hirogen, Klingons, Malons, and…oh yeah…the Borg. You’re also introduced to all-new species created for the game as you and the team work to unlock the secrets of the graveyard and the mysterious creature that created it so Voyager can escape the alien trap.
Those reading this and thinking the solution is to shoot your way out will be pleasantly surprised to learn the game is much more than that, in the best Star Trek tradition. The entire cast from Star Trek: Voyager provided the voices for their characters, with whom you get to interact as you proceed through the game. Elite Force’s original release did not feature Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, as her schedule at the time didn’t permit her to participate, but a software patch eventually came along and added her into the mix. Many of the Voyager‘s interiors were recreated or invented after only being referenced in dialogue with painstaking detail. There are also a number of surprises and Easter eggs baked into the game, and it would be poor form to spoil any of that here.
I’ve not played the game in years, but I remember having a blast playing through it. Elite Force combined the best aspects of adventure and first-person gaming with a fine Star Trek tale. Long ago, when I first started writing Star Trek fiction, I wanted to novels and other ties to the game that might offer more adventures for the Hazard Team. We got something in that vein thanks to Wildstorm Comics, who published a one-shot comic tie-in that offers a somewhat streamlined adaptation of the game’s core storyline. If there were plans for other such comics, they likely ended when Wildstorm lost the license to publish Star Trek comics in 2001. While I did pitch the idea of Hazard Team stories to Pocket Books (and I doubt I was the only one to do so), nothing ever came of such odd wish-listing. Such is life, and all that.
Meanwhile, the game begat its own sequels.
First, there was the Elite Force Expansion Pack, which as you might imagine from the title added a series of new scenarios to the original game. Even after all of these years, I’ve never acquired a copy of this but maybe one of these days I’ll happen across it. A full-blown follow-up came in 2003 with Star Trek: Elite Force II, which transports the Hazard Team to the Enterprise just after the events of Star Trek Nemesis. Of the Voyager cast, only Tim Russ returns to provide the voice for Tuvok, but that’s offset a bit by the addition of Patrick Stewart reprising his role as Jean-Luc Picard. While I’ve played this game, I must confess I enjoyed the original much more.
So, maybe you’ve read my yammering to this point and you’re all the way down here and you’re thinking, “Gee, Dayton. This game sounds pretty cool and I’d like to play. But…you know…you just told us the thing is 20 years old today and do they even make computers that can run a game as old as this anymore?”
Well, you can at least get a taste of retro Star Trek gaming thanks to The Last Outpost, a group of dedicated gamers who – with the permission of CBS and Raven Software – have recreated the game’s multiplayer “Holomatch” component and made it available as a free download. All you have to do is follow this linky-type thing RIGHT HERE.
I don’t have much time for gaming these days, Star Trek or otherwise, but I have to admit to having a bit of an itch to revisit this one. If you’ve played the game, share your thoughts and memories in the comments. Maybe you’ll convince me to chisel out a bit of time to have a bit of old-school gaming fun for a while.
“The totally unforeseen accident on the lunar surface has caused very serious repercussions here on Earth. The gravity disruption, the earthquakes in the United States along the San Andres fault, and in Yugoslavia, as well as Southern France, has caused enormous damage to life and property. The International Lunar Commission, with its new chairman, is in executive conference at this moment, deciding what steps might be taken to rescue the three hundred and eleven men and women on Moonbase Alpha. Little hope is held, however, that there are any survivors. For a short time it was thought a rescue might have been attempted from the Space Dock, until that too was hurled out of orbit. It has now been established that the Moon’s acceleration away from Earth has put it beyond the reach of any Earth launch….“
September 13th, 1999: It was a bad day, all around.
Premiering on September 4th, 1975 (in the UK; July 23rd in Australia; all over the place in US first-run syndication), Space: 1999 introduced us to the men and women of Moonbase Alpha, Earth’s first permanent lunar colony, which in the show’s continuity had been established in the early 1980s as a natural progression from the Apollo landings. Things were all hunky-dory for a time, with the base continuing its various research efforts and preparing to launch a manned mission to Meta, a mysterious planet that’s been detected by long range probes and which is believed to support “life as we know it.”
Oh, and they’re also overseeing the disposal of nuclear waste transported from Earth to the Moon’s far side, and dealing with a strange medical condition that’s been affecting numerous base personnel, including the astronauts slated to depart for the Meta mission.
Of course, and as things tend to do, the aforementioned nuclear waste finally decided enough was enough and opted to get back at the Moon by punching a gigantic hole in its taint. The result? Moonbase Alpha and its three hundred-plus colonists (“Alphans,” in moonbase hipster speak) are sent hurtling through space on a lonely quest, boldly going where at least a couple of science fiction shows from the 1960s had kinda sorta gone before.
And all of that happened just in the first episode, “Breakaway.” Dayuuuuum, amirite?
Created by the legendary Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, Space: 1999 actually began life as a proposed second series/season to another of their shows, UFO. By the time it was decided UFO would not continue, a great deal of pre-production work had already been completed or was still underway, so the Andersons repurposed that effort into the new series. In addition to containing several hints as to its UFO lineage, Space: 1999 also owes more than a bit of its visual aesthetic to 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, any similarities between the new series and Stanley Kubrick’s landmark science fiction film end pretty quickly.
Often described back in the day as a “successor to” or “son of ” the original Star Trek in particular, Space: 1999 quickly settled into a formula whereby the Moon drifts near or into orbit around an alien world, and Commander John Koenig and an assortment of Alphans proceed to get into some kind of trouble. The clock is usually ticking, as the Moon never hangs around any one planet for any real length of time, and if Koenig and his posse dawdle too long, they’ll be stranded as their home away from home continues on its merry way. Every so often a world offers the possibility of providing a new haven for the wayward travelers, but something always goes wrong and our heroes are left staring out the windows from Alpha as the Moon pulls away.
Then there’s the variation on the formula, whereby representatives from an alien species come calling for one reason or another, and hilarity ensues. Sometimes, just to shake things up, elements from both forks in the Space: 1999 story road are mixed together, and we go all the way to madness run amok, by golly.
At some point, theories begin to emerge that the Moon’s journey through the cosmos may not be random; that it’s being guided by some unseen hand, directed through wormholes or other spatial phenomena that might serve to explain how the Alphans are able to explore a strange new world (Sorry. Not sorry.) each week. This point, which is actually kind of cool on the face of it, is never really explained or exploited, particularly after the series moved to its second season.
Boasting the largest production budget for any British television series to that point, Space: 1999 starred Martin Landau and Barbara Bain as Commander Koenig and Dr. Helena Russell. Married at the time, Landau and Bain had previously worked together on Mission: Impossible. Needing a science officer to fill out the Trek-like captain-science dude-doctor triad, veteran actor Barry Morse (The Fugitive) was cast as Professor Victor Bergman, my favorite character of the whole shooting match. So, it figures his was one of the folks not brought back for the second year.
Visually, the show remains impressive in many ways. The model work used to realize Moonbase Alpha in particular is still eye-catching, as are the Eagle transports, which in my mind still rank as one of the coolest space vehicles in all of science fiction. Behold, yo:
That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
Despite storylines that often stretched “scientific principles” from eyebrow-raising to outright laughable, and performances that sometimes felt as though the actors were store mannequins, I must confess to having a really big soft spot for Space: 1999…particularly its first season. The effort to make the show top-notch is obvious, in everything from the model work to the sets and props and–yes–even the storytelling, which was entertaining more often than not.
I’m less enamored with the second season, which was characterized by simpler, more action-oriented plots, the replacement of key characters, and other little choices that bugged me to varying degrees. Such changes were viewed as necessary following the show’s cancellation after the first year and last-minute renewal. On the one hand, I get having your command center not being in a giant room with a bunch of windows overlooking the lunar surface is probably a good idea when your base is always getting shot at by alien spaceships and death rays and whatnot. That said, the original “Main Mission” from the first season was some pretty kick-ass set design.
Space: 1999‘s television run was accompanied by the usual assortment of toys and other merchandise, including books, comics, models, action figures, and so on. I still have a complete set of the original novels/novelizations from the 1970s, later supplemented by editions of adaptations written years later. There are also a few novels written exclusively for foreign markets. There have been recent efforts to revive the property in novel and comic form, and of course the series is available on DVD and Blu-ray, the latter enjoying a complete series release just last year that is FREAKING GORGEOUS.
More recently, Big Finish has launched an audiobook series that is something of an update of the show’s premise while at the same time presenting it as an “alternate history” of 20th century human space exploration where things went very differently in the years after the Apollo program. The first installment is an updating of “Breakaway,” the TV series’ first episode, and the next entry is slated to be a trio of stories — two updated versions of TV episodes and one all-new tale. As I said in my review for SciFi Bulletin for “Breakaway,” it’s basically a period piece from an alternate history, and it totally works for me.
There’s on again-off again talk of a reboot, but I don’t know if that’ll ever happen. Regardless, we still have the original Space: 1999, which stands alongside Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman as cheesy yet charming 1970s TV sci-fi.