Veterans Day.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, December 8th, 1915

Erin-PoppyField
(Artwork: Erin Ward)

Happy 247th Birthday, Marines!

On November 1st, 1921, John A. Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that a reminder of the honorable service of the Corps be published by every command, to all Marines throughout the globe, on the birthday of the Corps. Since that day, Marines have continued to distinguish themselves on many battlefields and foreign shores, in war and peace. On this birthday of the Corps, therefore, in compliance with the will of the 13th Commandant, Article 38, United States Marine Corps Manual, Edition of 1921, is republished as follows:

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our Corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long era of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish, Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ since the founding of the Corps.

— from The Marine Officer’s Guide

———

Each year, General Lejeune’s original birthday message is read aloud at Marine Corps birthday celebrations around the globe. I’ve even had the privilege of doing this myself, at a birthday ball or two.

Happy Birthday, Marines. Semper Fi!

First Blood at 40.

You don’t seem to want to accept the fact you’re dealing with an expert in guerrilla warfare; with a man who’s the best…with guns, with knives, with his bare hands. A man who’s been trained to ignore pain…ignore weather; to live off the land…to eat things that would make a billy goat puke. In Vietnam his job was to dispose of enemy personnel. To kill! Period! Win by attrition. Well Rambo was the best.

Earlier this year, David Morrell’s debut novel, First Blood, celebrated its 50th birthday. Like many authors who go on to write other books they consider better (or at least, better written) than their inaugural outings, it’s doubtful Mr. Morrell ever envisioned this relatively “small” story about a single man attempting to navigate a world he no longer understands or in which he feels welcome would go on to become – arguably – his signature work.

And while he perhaps hoped it might one day be adapted for film, he likely didn’t anticipate what would happen with that.

Released 40 years ago today on October 22nd, 1982, First Blood – the movie – introduced theater audiences to distraught Vietnam combat veteran John Rambo.

The first of what would become (so far?) five films focusing on Rambo hits several of the same notes as the novel, at least in the beginning. Rambo (given a first name of John for the film), a drifter, finds his way to a small mountain town and is harassed by the local law in the form of Sheriff Wilfred Teasle. Concerned this long-haired unwashed hippie might attract others of his kind to his quiet, tranquil little enclave, Teasle at first tries to “help” Rambo with a lift to the edge of town. When Rambo, hoping to stop somewhere for something to eat, decides to wander back, Teasle is none too happy and arrests him. That’s when things start to take a turn toward shit as Rambo is less than cooperative while being processed at the sheriff’s station.

Suffering from a PTSD-induced flashback to his time as a tortured prisoner of war in Vietnam, Rambo attacks Teasle and his men and makes his escape, commandeering a motorcycle and heading for the nearby mountains. Teasle and his men give chase, but that doesn’t turn out so well, does it? Things only get crazier when they find out Rambo is not only a former Green Beret with seriously mad ass-kicking skillz, but he’s also a Medal of Honor winner. Then, his former commanding officer, Colonel Sam Trautman, shows up looking for his boy, and by then we’re off to the races.

First Blood, for my money, anyway, is far and away the best of the Rambo films. Sylvester Stallone does a fine job embodying the tormented soul of John Rambo, shifting with aplomb between brooding loner, ruthless warrior, and broken man. He also served as a co-writer for the film’s script, and he would take on increasingly greater control of the character and storylines with each new sequel.

As for this first outing, it does differ in several respects from David Morrell’s novel, most notably with the ending, of course (No spoilers. You’re just gonna have to suss out that info on your own). The Rambo of the novel is a much darker, disturbed, and violent character than his film incarnation, and Teasle is presented in somewhat less sympathetic fashion in the movie, but he’s still pretty much a dick in both versions even though his motivations are at least a bit more understandable in the book. The setting is changed from a small town in Kentucky to the Pacific Northwest, and the film adds the extra bit about Rambo seeking out one of his old Army buddies and discovering the man has died due to cancer, perhaps the result of exposure to Agent Orange.

One big change I’ve never really understood is why the filmmakers chose not to keep more elements from what ends up being a very personal battle of wills between Rambo and Teasle. There are shades of it in the movie, sure, but the setup and payoff in the book are much stronger and more visceral, thanks in large part to Morrell’s decision to alternate the story between the two men’s points of view from chapter to chapter. If you only know Rambo from the movies, Morrell’s book is absolutely and without equivocation well worth the read.

Stallone’s initial outing as John Rambo was successful enough to warrant four sequels: Rambo: First Blood, Part II in 1985, 1988’s Rambo III, the surprisingly solid Rambo in 2008, and 2019’s Rambo: Last Blood. The first two follow-ups suffer from featuring stock, almost cartoonish villians and action, while the fourth movie pulled no punches in its depictions of war-torn Burma. For whatever the hell my opinion’s worth, Rambo as depicted here is closest to what Morrell originally envisioned for the character.

Rambo: The Force of Freedom. Yeah, that happened.

Despite an initial wave of mixed reviews, the original First Blood enjoyed box office success which lead to the aforementioned sequels (which in turn inspired comics, video games, and – believe it or not – an animated series complete with toys). Over time, First Blood has come to be recognized as an influential entry in the action-adventure and military film genres.

While it seemed like John Rambo’s story might have reached a logical conclusion at the end of the fourth film, with him having “come full circle” as Trautman told him he one day would have to do, we neverthless (and perhaps inevitably) got one more sequel with Last Blood. It’s not a story that needed to be told, particularly given how the previous film ended on what I thought was just the right note. That feeling was only reinforced with the movie’s return to the more one-dimensional antagonists and what is essentially a build-up to a single violent confrontation with a Mexican drug gang. To be fair, the version I along with the rest of U.S. audiences originally got to see in theaters is a disappointment. The “extended cut” seen overseas and currently available for digital rental/purchase on Amazon Prime adds 12 minutes inexplicably left out of the U.S. release. Those 12 minutes don’t make Last Blood a great film, but for damned sure they make it a better film.

Have we seen the last of John Rambo? Recent rumors have whispered about a possible sixth film and even a TV series which might reboot the character, and I long ago learned to never say never when it comes to this kind of thing.

Meanwhile, there’s the original film, as good in its own way as the novel from which it sprang. Tip your glass to one of the iconic action movies of the 1980s. Draw First Blood.

It’s Jupiter 2 Launch Day!


October 16th, 1997:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is jupiter2onlaunchpad.jpg

“This is the beginning. This is the day. You are watching the unfolding of one of history’s greatest adventures–man’s colonization of space beyond the stars. The first of what may be as many as ten million families per year is setting out on its epic voyage into man’s newest frontier, deep space. Reaching out into other worlds from our desperately overcrowded planet, a series of deep thrust telescopic probes have conclusively established a planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri as the only one within range of our technology able to furnish ideal conditions for human existence.

Even now the family chosen for this incredible journey into space is preparing to take their final pre lift off physical tests. The Robinson family was selected from more than two million volunteers for its unique balance of scientific achievement, emotional stability, and pioneer resourcefulness. They will spend the next five and a half years of their voyage frozen in a state of suspended animation which will terminate automatically as the spacecraft enters the atmosphere of the new planet.”

Lost In Space, “The Reluctant Stowaway”

jupiter2-missionpatch



Happy 35th Anniversary, Star Trek: The Next Generation!

“YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH, DAYTON!”

Sorry, folks, but it’s true. 35 years ago tonight, the 24th century began.

Star Trek: The Next Generation opening title

I’ve told this story before, but on the evening of September 28th, 1987, I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s premiere episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” in the TV room of my barracks at Camp Pendleton. The room was stuffed with Marines, and maybe it was because of the beer, but we all stayed to watch the whole thing.

Our first look at the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-D, from the opening credits of “Encounter at Farpoint,” which for the premiere ran before the opening scenes.

It was a new era, with a new captain and crew aboard a new Starship Enterprise, something all but unthinkable just a couple of years earlier. “What’s that? It’s not Captain Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the gang? BLASPHEMY!”

:: ahem ::

While “Farpoint” certainly had its problems, it was Star Trek, by golly. And, it was new Star Trek, and little did we know at the time what that really meant, or would come to mean.

Anybody remember this bit, which ran before the episode?

Man. How time flies.

So, yeah. The show got off to something of a rocky start, and took a while to find its footing. Still, even with this first episode, it was easy to see the potential in this new show. A big part of that is due to Patrick Stewart, who carried much of the load that first year and who as Captain Jean-Luc Picard brought a gravitas to the series which helped us forgive some of the hokier storylines. The other actors soon settled into their roles, of course, in time becoming a comfortable ensemble and even a family. By its third season, the show cemented itself as a worthy bearer of the Star Trek torch.

Seven television seasons, four feature films, a return of the cast early next year with the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard, and merchandising out the wazoo, including a whole bunch of novels published by Pocket Books. As one of those responsible for foisting more than a few of those on an unsuspecting reading public, I’ve always enjoyed my time spent with Captain Picard and his merry band. Here’s hoping they let me do a few more.

Happy 35th Anniversary, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Go. Go see what’s out there.

Star Trek: The Next Generation season 1 cast publicity photo

Happy 50th Anniversary, M*A*S*H.

We try to play par surgery on this course. Par is a live patient.

Fifty years ago tonight, an odd, seemingly out-of-place TV series made its rather quiet, almost overlooked premiere on CBS. It would struggle through its first season and even face cancellation, but would soon find its audience. Carrying on for ten subsequent seasons, it eventually would go on to become one of the most influential series in the history of television.

M*A*S*H, the TVseries, was based on Robert Altman’s 1970 film MASH, as well as the novel of the same name (actually MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors), which was written by “Richard Hooker” (a pen name for Dr. Richard Hornberger and W.C. Heinz). Developed by the late, great Larry Gelbart, the series began as something of a hybrid. It didn’t so much adapt or continue events from either the film or the book as it used both works for inspiration and points of departure. Certain scenes or lines of dialogue from the novel or the movie were the basis for plot points and even entire episodes during the show’s early seasons.

M*A*S*H first-season cast

As another part of their research, Gelbart along with writer/producer Gene Reynolds and other members of the writing staff interviewed doctors and other servicemembers who had served (or were serving at that time) in real MASH units overseas. The transcripts of those interviews along with other stories, anecdotes, little asides and other details as conveyed to them by the men and women for whom this was or had been real life served as inspiration throughout the life of the series.

Several of the characters, already re-interpreted to one degree or another for the movie, were given still new spins for their television incarnations. Most notable in that regard is the character around which the series would center, Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce as played by Alan Alda. Though Hawkeye bore a decent resemblance to his film and novel namesakes at the start, Alda’s influence not just in his own portrayal but also the writing (and later directing and producing) of the series would see Hawkeye, the rest of the characters, and indeed the entire series evolve in numerous ways as the show progressed.

From the beginning, Gelbart and his crew wanted M*A*S*H to be something more than a simple situation comedy (according to interviews over the years, the cast and crew have said that they never referred to the show as a “sitcom”). In their minds, the setting, a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, demanded that attention and respect. Even the earliest scripts, played largely for laughs, featured the occasional drift into more dramatic subject matter.

It wasn’t until late in the first season that Gelbart and the writing staff seemed to find the perfect balance between comedy and drama, with the pivotal episode “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet,” in which Hawkeye is reunited with an old friend who later dies on the operating table. By all accounts, this was the episode when the producers realized the true potential of what they could do with the series and its format, provided they had the proper front-office support. Once that support was demonstrated with the show’s renewal for a second season, all bets were off, and M*A*S*H never looked back.

The series would continue unabated for ten more years, earning more than 100 Primetime Emmy nominations (winning 14) and over 20 Golden Globe nominations (snagging 8). It also earned seven Director’s Guild of America, including three for Alan Alda himself, as well as 28 Writers Guild of America Award nominations, of which it took home seven. Its movie-length series finale episode, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” still ranks as the most-watched non-sports program in television history nearly 40 years after its original broadcast.

After the series concluded in 1983, there was an attempt to continue on with some of the characters and leftover storylines. This took the form of AfterMASH, with Colonel Potter, Corporal Klinger and Father Mulcahy working together at a stateside VA hospital after the war. The show actually did pretty well during its first season (despite there being a noticeable lack of, well, M*A*S*H), and was notable for attempting to bring attention to the ongoing post-war treatment and care of soldiers.

Its second year would be its last after CBS unwisely chose to move it to Tuesday nights, opposite a show you might remember called The A-Team. Whoops. AfterMASH was spanked in the ratings, and was cancelled part way through its second year. I’ve not seen the show since its original airing, and then only part of its first season. It’s not yet been released on any home video format, but I remain hopeful, as I’d like to revisit it with fresh eyes. There also was another spin-off attempt, W*A*L*T*E*R with Gary Burghoff reprising his Radar character, but the pilot was rejected. It aired once on television, but I’ve never seen it.

As for M*A*S*H itself, I came to it rather late in its broadcast run. I think I started watching it around the seventh or eighth season, as I recall. By then, reruns of the earlier seasons were airing on local UHF stations, so I started watching them over and over. I remember wondering why the book and film were so different from the show, but once I figured out that I had it backwards, I came to love them on their own merits, and the novel is something I still reread from time to time when the mood strikes. I own the entire series on DVD, and it’s one of those shows for which I’ll stop channel-surfing if I happen across an episode. I’ve read all of the Richard Hooker sequel novels (their continuity feeds off the original novel, not the film or the series), and I even own a copy of the stage play script.

I know there are people who prefer the first three years–before the first of the various cast changes–to anything which came later. There also are folks who don’t watch the latter three or four seasons, because they feel the show began to lose steam at that point. While I agree to an extent with that second stance, for me, I can and do enjoy the entire run, and there are definitely gems and favorites even in those later seasons. The eighth season episode “Old Soldiers,” in which Colonel Potter comes to terms with knowing that the last of his friends from his youth have died, remains one of my absolute favorite episodes, as much for Harry Morgan’s performance as the subject matter.

Other favorites? Wow. How much time do you have? We could be here a while. Suffice it to say I have a lot of favorites, and I’m thinking I’ll be checking out some of them later today.

Happy Anniversary, M*A*S*H.

Attention, all personnel: Due to conditions beyond our control, we regret to announce that lunch is now being served.

Happy Breakaway Day!

Yep. On this date 23 years ago, the lives of the 311 men and women living and working on Moonbase Alpha…took a turn.

Moonbase Alpha, September 13th, 1999: And you thought your day sucked.

This is another one of those holidays I think are tragically overlooked by the various greeting card companies. Come on, Hallmark! You’re leaving money on the table!

Anyway, here’s hoping you can spare a thought or two for the Alphans while you’re going about your day.

Happy Judgment Day!

Roses are Red
Violets Are Blue
Humanity’s toast
Suck on my big fat CPU.

Love, Skynet.                                             

Judgment Day: August 29th, 1997. Sunblock optional.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of humanity and the rise of the machines.

Here’s hoping you can get out, enjoy it, and maybe take advantage of all the sales!

Happy Birthday, Gene.

Today would’ve been Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s 101st birthday.

“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.

Happy 35th Anniversary, RoboCop!

Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”

robocop-poster

Take one police officer in the wrong place at the wrong time. Add a host of state-of-the art cybernetic and computerized implants, all provided by a soulless, greedy corporation looking to “modernize” an overworked,  undermanned police force while making a tidy profit for themselves as they design a “city of the future.” Give the resulting creation one gigantic mother-fucking hand cannon, and the keys to a police cruiser. What do you get?

Released on this date in 1987, RoboCop is filmmaker Paul Verheoven’s dark, violent, often satirical, occasionally funny and in far too many ways very prescient action-crime thriller doused with a liberal helping of science fiction.

The plot is pretty simple: Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is mortally wounded while attempting with his partner to apprehend a gang of nasty bad guys with absolutely no qualms about torturing and killing a cop just for something to do. Declared dead but also still the “property” of Omni Consumer Products, the private corporation that has taken over the Detroit Police Department, Murphy — what remains of him following the shootout with the bad guys — is used as the “organism” part of a “cybernetic organism” project dreamed up by opportunistic junior executive/first-class douche canoe Bob Morton (played by the late, great Miguel Ferrer). Morton’s dream project, “RoboCop,” is intended to give OCP a cheaper, more reliable alternative to the law enforcement droids championed by senior exec Dick Jones (Ronny Cox).

Murphy is to be the prototype. All memories of his past life  are (supposedly) erased, and everything but his brain, face, heart, and other vital organs is replaced by cybernetic technology, turning him into a walking, talking armored tank with the ability to tie directly to any computer database and receive instructions the way you might program your own home computer. He’s also got a pistol the size of a damned baseball bat, that shoots like a Gatling gun and is stored inside his cybernetic leg. In short order, the new cyborg is given to the Detroit Police Department and he takes to the streets, and it doesn’t take RoboCop to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers everywhere and become the hero of a city beleaguered by crime. Everybody’s happy: citizens, the police force, and OCP.

Everything’s awesome until he runs into one of the bad guys who “killed” him, and his memories start to come back.

Then, shit gets real.

Thirty-five years after its initial release, RoboCop is still one of the absolute best science fiction films to come out of the 1980s. Though things like technology are of course dated by today’s standards, it’s the story — including peeks at the future of news and “infotainment” programming, the relentless quest for corporate profits at the expense of everything else including the people who provide those profits,  the bitter view of the military industrial complex — that still holds up. In typical 1980s/1990s Verheoven style, the humor here is dark…I mean, dark, yo.

Peter Weller is perfect as Alex Murphy and his cybernetic alter ego, struggling to hang onto those few vestiges of humanity that haven’t (yet?) been stripped from him. Nancy Allen is criminally underused as Murphy’s partner, Anne Lewis, and Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer are ruthless as the OCP execs who want to cash in at any cost. But it’s Kurtwood Smith who steals every single damned scene he’s in, playing evil-as-fuck Clarence Boddicker with unrestrained relish. It’s Boddicker who leads the murder of Alex Murphy, including taking the kill shot, and once Murphy realizes who and what he is and how he got here, you just know these two are going to clash like Godzilla and King Kong. For my money, Smith’s portrayal cemented Boddicker as one of the all-time great screen villains.

boddicker-grenade

The idea of marrying mechanical implants to a living being was already the stuff of SF film and literature well before RoboCop, of course. One of the more recent and popular manifestations of this trope had come along 15 or so years earlier, and also featured an unwitting test subject chosen by chance or fate to be “augmented” by cybernetic technology: Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man. Several themes hinted at or explored in RoboCop, particularly with respect to Murphy being a “tool of the state” and wondering if he can retain any of his humanity — if he is in fact more than the sum of his parts — are also found in early episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man as well as the novel on which that series is based, 1972’s Cyborg by Martin Caidin.

RoboCop was a critical and commercial success, spawning two feature film sequels as well as a TV series, a TV mini-series, and (incredibly enough) not one but two animated series…precisely none of which are anywhere as good as the first movie. It’s also been successful in the merchandising arena, including toys and videogames as well as a run of comic stories from two different publishers. As I write this, a new videogame, RoboCop: Rogue City is in development with a scheduled release of June 2023 and featuring the Peter Weller’s likeness and voice. Click that link to check out a trailer. Elsewhere, rumors continue to fly about RoboCop Returns, a supposed sequel to the original film which would ignore the events of previous sequels and television series. Whether Weller returns to the role is undetermined, at least for the moment.

2014 brought with it an inevitable remake, which isn’t quite as bad as some people would have you believe while still coming nowhere close to holding a candle to the original. I recommend watching it at least once so you can see what they were trying to do, and how they brought some interesting twists while still (at times, anyway) somehow managing to completely miss what makes the original the enduring classic it is.

But, then you should definitely go back and watch this one, because Hell. Yeah. As Clarence Boddicker might say, this flick is “state of the art bang-bang.”