These are the voyages where the legend began, 55 years ago tonight!
I’ve mentioned this before (about a zillion times), but my earliest memories include Star Trek to some degree. I wasn’t old enough to watch the show during its original broadcast run, but I watched the reruns every day after school. Beyond that, I had the Mego figures and that crazy bridge set. I built the AMT models, and I read the occasional Gold Key comic book or poster book or collection of James Blish episode adaptations.
All of that was just filler of course. Anchoring all of that were the reruns. Always, the reruns.
Back in those far off days of Yesteryear which was the setting for my childhood, you had to wait for your favorite episodes to cycle back around in the rotation on one of your local TV stations. I watched the series on a little black and white television and its crappy little antenna as the show was broadcast on a low-power local UHF channel in Tampa. Depending on the time of day and prevailing weather conditions, I might not always get a decent picture. If I was out in the boonies somewhere–like my aunt’s house–I might have to fiddle with the antenna throughout the episode, and as often as not I might be forced to choose between having a picture or having sound.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that today also marks the 48th anniversary of the animated Star Trek series, which premiered on NBC on this date in 1973. I did catch (most of) those episodes during their initial run, and the show helped to spark a lot of the Trek-related toys and other merchandise which came out in the mid 1970s, like those aforementioned Mego action figures.
Today, of course, I have Star Trek literally at my fingertips: Blu-rays on the shelf or episodes streaming over the internet, and I even have my favorite episodes stored on my phone. Then there are the books (Fun fact: I’ve written a few of those, in case you were wondering), comics, role-playing games, computer games, toys, models, websites, and pretty much anything you’d care to name. Star Trek is everywhere. Hold up a picture of the original Enterprise or Kirk and Spock, and most people will know what you’re talking about.
Meanwhile, fate and circumstances have seen to it that I’m able to continue contributing — albeit in a very small way — to this vast, ever-expanding universe that Gene Roddenberry gave us back in 1966. It is the very definition of a “dream job.” I doubt I’ll ever have another job that’s as rewarding and just plain fun as what I’m currently privileged to do, and I never allow myself to take that for granted. Ever. My only regret is that I didn’t figure this out years and years ago.
Speaking of years? Star Trek looks pretty dapper for 55. Enjoy your cake, everybody.
Star Trek fans were saddened yesterday to learn of the passing of Edward J. Paskey, who died three days short of his 82nd birthday.
If his name isn’t familiar even to longtime fans of the original Star Trek series, chances are good those same fans would recognize his face. Mr. Paskey was a ubiquitous presence in numerous episodes throughout the show’s three-year run.
Though he sometimes had other names – whenever he had a name at all – Paskey’s character was most often referred to as “Mr. Leslie” or “Lieutenant Leslie.” As you can see from the small gallery of photos, he showed up all over the place, wearing different uniforms and occupying different positions, such as various bridge stations or as a member of a landing party or security detail. He also served as a stand-in for William Shatner and his hands were used in a couple of close-up shots as stand-ins (hand-ins?) for James Doohan, who was missing the middle finger of his right hand as a consequence of wounds suffered during his service in World War II.
Beginning with the second pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” Mr. Paskey appeared in 58 of the show’s 79 episodes, more than George Takei as Sulu or Walter Koening as Chekov, though his role was of course much smaller. He only had spoken dialogue in four episodes, and only received screen credit for two of those appearances. He even died a couple of times, only to appear an episode or two later, perhaps wearing a different color shirt or sitting at a different station. This “phenomenon” is but one of the original series’ many quirky charms, and Mr. Paskey’s contributions to the show make for one of its most fun anecdotes.
We send our sincere condolences to Mr. Paskey’s family and friends for their loss.
Today marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Gene Roddenberry. Though he had worked consistently in Hollywood by contributing scripts to a number of television series throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, it was in the fall of 1964 that he unknowingly began creating something of a cultural shift when he sat down at his typewriter and wrote this:
Yes, he’d written about Star Trek before, largely in the form of an extensive pitch document which he used to convince executive producer Herbert F. Solow and Desilu Productions (including, yes, the legendary Lucille Ball herself) to take a chance on his concept for a new science fiction/action-adventure series unlike anything which had yet graced TV screens. But it wasn’t until he actually set to the task of writing that first story that his idea took on substance.
While the completed pilot episode as presented to NBC didn’t wow network executives, it intrigued them enough that they allowed Roddenberry to try again. His second effort, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was enough to get a thumbs up and a series order, and the rest…as has often been said…is history.
Since then, what spawned from Mr. Roddenberry’s typewriter has grown and expanded to to include (to date) ten television series along with two more which will premiere in the coming months (and others in various stages of gestation), 13 feature films with — as I write this — another on the way, hundreds of stories told in the pages of books and comics as well as computer and other gaming platforms, and so much more.
I think, at this point, it’s safe to say the man had an influence on a writer/blogger/online babbler of your acquaintance. My earliest childhood memories include watching afternoon reruns of the original series. Then a bit later there was the animated series on Saturday mornings, followed by playing with the Mego action figures and using them to create my own adventures for Captain Kirk and his crew. Building the U.S.S. Enterprise model, or even that “Exploration Set” so I could run outside and “play Star Trek” with my friends. The giant swing/ball/slide thing in the middle of our neighborhood playground was our Enterprise, and everything else we filled in with our imaginations. Those were the days, amirite?
Then there were the comics, and the books.
Not nearly so prevalent as they are today, Star Trek comics in the early-mid 1970s along with the occasional book were squeal-inducing finds at the local Woolworth’s or other department store. Pickings were slim back in those days, and let’s be honest: As kitschy, charming and whimsical as I still believe them to be, the Star Trek comics as published by Gold Key during the late 1960s and early 1970s are pretty insane. I mean……
So, yeah. Those.
On the prose front, from what I remember my Star Trek reading began or at least was heavily influenced by the slim volumes of episode adaptations as penned by noted science fiction author James Blish. Working from early script drafts, Blish translated each of the episodes into short stories, divided across what ultimately became 12 books, with an additional book, Mudd’s Angels, adapting the two episodes that featured rogue scoundrel Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd as well as an original Mudd tale penned by Blish’s his wife, author J.A. Lawrence, who also assisted with the final installments of the episode adaptations when her husband’s health began to decline.
These were but the first of my many forays into the written world of Star Trek. Little did I know that reading these books and the ones that followed would eventually lead me down a path toward wanting to try my own hand at writing. Not for one second did I ever dream I might one day be able to contribute to what is now a very large number of Star Trek books, as I’ve been privileged to do for going on 20 years, now. Perhaps even more exciting than that, I actually get to help other people make Star Trek, and I don’t mind telling anyone who’ll listen that it’s a pretty good gig to have. Talk about your dream jobs….
All because of a little TV show my mother let me watch every day after school before starting my homework, created by a man who would’ve celebrated his 100th birthday today.
“I would hope there are bright young people, growing up all the time, who will bring to [Star Trek] levels and areas that were beyond me, and I don’t feel jealous about that at all….It’ll go on without any of us, and get better and better and better. That really is the human condition–to improve.”
– Gene Roddenberry, 1988
Thank you, Mr. Roddenberry, for giving us such a wondrous sandbox in which to play and dream.
“A shadow shall fall over the universe, and evil will grow in its path, and death will come from the skies.”
Heavy Metal is 40 years old today.
I’m not talking about the music genre, which is even older; I mean Heavy Metal, the animated movie based on the self-styled “adult illustrated fantasy magazine (itself based on the French magazine Métal Hurlant),” which premiered in theaters on August 7th, 1981. Unless you’ve been living on an asteroid or suspended in cryogenic freeze lo these many years, you’ve at least heard of this movie, and are even likely familiar with at least one image associated with the film. Check it, yo:
The summer of 1981 was pretty good for movies, especially if you were a 14-year old boy like I was. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Escape From New York, Clash of the Titans and For Your Eyes Only to name but a few were all in theaters, and this was back in the days when movies where “HELD OVER!” for weeks upon weeks, so long as they brought in decent coin. So, it was with no small amount of curiosity that my friends and I, after ostensibly purchasing tickets to see Indiana Jones do his thing for the seventh or eighth time, instead took advantage of lax theater oversight and snuck our way into our first R-rated cartoon.
Dayton, his young, impressionable eyes opened.
And so it went: A mysterious green orb brought back to Earth from deep space proceeds to tell its tale of how evil it is to the young daughter of the astronaut who brought it home. As for the astronaut? Well, he did bring the thing home, so that was his ass. The orb, which refers to itself as the “Loc-Nar,” reveals its story to the girl (and us) through a series of vignettes, each set in different a time period and/or on a distant world, with tons of violence, bad language, and gratuitous animated nudity…and all of it set to a first-rate musical score courtesy of legendary composer Elmer Bernstein, along with what is arguably one of the most KICK-ASS collections of rock music ever to be lumped together under a “movie soundtrack” banner.
Ivan Reitman (as in Animal House, Stripes, Ghostbusters and…yes…Kindergarten Cop), co-produced the film, which features stories written by Dan O’Bannon (Alien) as well as frequent Heavy Metal magazine contributors Bernie Wrightson and Richard Corben. The voice talents of folks like John Candy, Harold Ramis, John Vernon and Eugene Levy add to the fun. The animation, much of which was derived by “rotoscoping,” or drawing animated figures by tracing over filmed live-action footage of actors, has its ups and downs, though a lot of it looks pretty dated when compared to modern efforts and even some earlier animated features. Still, it does have a distinctive style which remains recognizable.
To be honest, Heavy Metal isn’t that great a flick. I mean, we got a huge kick out of it back then, and I’ve watched it however many times during the intervening years, but it’s not a masterpiece. I enjoy many of its components individually more so than the resulting entire package. Regardless of what I might think, there’s no denying it’s a cult classic, with no small amount of charm doing its best to mask the flaws contained therein.
That’s not to say I think it’s a bad movie. It’s cheesy fun, and while it appealed more to 14-year old me than 54-year old me, I still have a soft spot for a couple of the segments (“Captain Sternn” and “B-17,” for those keeping score). What I remember most, and still love to this day, is the music. Holy shit, what a line-up! Sammy Hagar, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Nazareth, and even Journey and Grand Funk Railroad, just to name the ones off the top of my head. I must have gone through a half-dozen copies of the soundtrack on cassette (Remember those?), and waited for years for the damned thing to be made available on CD. Same with the Bernstein score.
As for the movie itself, I unabashedly admit I own it on Blu-ray, along with its lesser sequel, Heavy Metal 2000 (on DVD, natch). I’ve also followed the magazine off and on across the years, up to and including recent issues from its current iteration, and some of their spin-off comics projects have also caught my eye here and there.
There have been rumblings off and on in recent years about some kind of new animated Heavy Metal film project. While that hasn’t yet happened, HM’s had its fingers in a few other screened projects. First, there was Métal Hurlant Chronicles, a French-Belgian anthology series which took its name from the original magazine. After airing in Europe beginning in the fall of 2012, its two seasons made their way to the U.S. in 2014 and showed up on the Syfy network.
Elsewhere, Kevin Eastman, at the time the owner and publisher of Heavy Metal magazine, co-produced War of the Worlds: Goliath, a 2014 animated steampunk sequel to H.G. Wells’ original novelThe War of the Worlds. Uh…they had me at War of the Worlds. Anyway, Eastman made sure the magazine promoted the film in the run-up to its release, including featuring several tie-in stories released culminating in a “War of the Worlds special” issue. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the film’s novelization, written as it was by friend and fellow word pusher Adam Whitlatch.
Most recently, there’s the Netflix series Love, Death & Robots, which premiered in 2019 and is basically a reimagining of an idea for a Heavy Metal movie series developed by David Fincher and Tim Miller. LD+R has produced 26 episodes to date across two seasons, with a third season of eight episodes slated for 2022.
So, you know: feel free to check out all of that stuff. You know you want to. You can’t refuse. “If you refuse, you die; she dies…everybody dies!”
:: Ahem. ::
Anyway, Happy 40th Birthday, Heavy Metal the movie.
As something of a movie nerd, I’m usually aware when favorite films celebrate “milestone” birthdays (or anniversaries, if you will). This past weekend, I yammered a bit about Top Gun on the occasion of its 35th birthday, as it was released on May 16th, 1986. Back in April, I found time to wax nostalgic about the classic science fiction film The Thing From Another World, turning 70 this year after being released on April 7th, 1951. I think anyone who’s spent any amount of time here knows I’m pretty reliable so far as remembering things like the various Star Trek films, but there are plenty of other favorites, like the original Alien or Superman movies to name just a couple of prominent examples.
2021 seems to be a banner year for celebrating movie milestone birthdays. I’m not just talking about old black n’ white flicks, though a few of those are marking anniversaries of distinction this year, as well. I don’t even mean to stop with movies I saw first run in a theater as a kid or even a young(er) adult, in many cases before the age of home video and all that jazz. We’re deep into that era, progressing from video tapes, LaserDiscs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs to streaming video, all of which have for more than thirty years allowed us to revisit fondly-remembered films any time we feel like it. However, none of that equals the thrill of my young eyes being glued to one of those giant movie screens all those years ago as the lights dimmed and the music started to ramp up. Even today, with so many options at my fingertips, there are still films – old and new – I want to see on that giant movie screen, just as their creators intended.
So, what have we got? Well, here’s a sampling of what’s still to come in 2021:
On Friday, May 21st, Escape from the Planet of the Apes – the third in the “classic series” of Apes films, turns 50. YOU READ THAT RIGHT.
Celebrating its 40th birthday on Saturday, May 22nd, is Outland, Sean Connery’s low-key, even underrated “High Noon in Space” riff, which opened in 1981. Still one of my favorite 1980s science fiction films.
Also on May 22nd but celebrating its 25th birthday after being released in 1996 is the first Mission: Impossible movie. As I write this, Tom Cruise and company are working to finish that series’ seventh film, with an eighth already waiting in the pre-production wings.
This year also marks the 30th anniversary of Thelma & Louise embarking on their infamous road trip, which began on May 24th, 1991. On that same date, Ron Howard brought to us is wonderful drama about firefighters, Backdraft, starring Kurt Russell and William Baldwin, and Robert De Niro.
Those are just the things I’ve got for the remainder of May. June and July will bring a whole truckload more, as we remember our first encounters with Ferris Bueller, Snake Plissken, Jack Burton, and Indiana Jones on the occasion of their respective “milestone” anniversaries. We’ll also say “Welcome Back!” to Ellen Ripley, James Bond, and (he says, grudgingly) Robin Hood for similar reasons. And that’s just for starters.
Don’t worry, TV friends. I haven’t forgotten you! On television, May 23rd will mark the 20th anniversary of the Star Trek: Voyager series finale, which saw Voyager and its crew make their triumphant return to Earth on this date in 2001.
2021 is also “important” for remembering our first meetings with Jack Bauer, Captain Jonathan Archer, and – if you want to reach even farther back – Colt Seavers, the unknown stuntman who made Eastwood look so fine.
I don’t know that I’ll get to individual entries for most or even several of these. I guess it’ll all come down to time available, but I’ll try my best because these sorts of look-backs are fun, and 2021 is a banner year for me and my fellow movie nerds. When it’s not making me feel old, of course. While I ponder that notion, feel free to throw your personal favorites into the comments section.
“I gotta send somebody from this squadron to Miramar. I gotta do something here. I still can’t believe it. I gotta give you your dream shot. I’m gonna send you up against the best. You two characters are going to Top Gun. For five weeks, you’re gonna fly against the best fighter pilots in the world. You were number two, Cougar was number one. Cougar lost it, turned in his wings. You guys are number one. But you remember one thing. You screw up just this much, you’ll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.”
May 16, 1986: the United States Navy is gifted with what might still rank as its best-ever recruiting film. That’s right, elipsing such classics as McHale’s Navy, The Hunt for Red October, and even Down Periscope.