It’s Jupiter 2 Launch Day!

October 16th, 1997:

“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”

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Happy Birthday, Star Trek: The Next Generation!

Tonight…the 24th Century begins…..”

That’s what greeted those of us lounging in front of our televisions 32 years ago tonight, when legendary radio and TV personality and ABC broadcaster Ernie Anderson introduced us to “Staaaaaaaaaar Trek: The Next Generation” with a 90-second teaser just before the premiere of the series first episode, “Encounter at Farpoint.”

Seems like…well, it sure as hell doesn’t seem like 32 years ago that’s for sure.

I’ve told this story before, but on September 28th, 1987, I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s premiere 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.

While we didn’t hate it, it was obvious that this show would go through a growth period as the folks behind and in front of the camera tweaked and pulled at this or that. Still, it was new Star Trek, by golly,  and little did we know at the time what that would come to mean.

Now here we are, 32 years after the series premiere and 17 years since the last time he did so, and Patrick Stewart is preparing to return to the role of Jean-Luc Picard. It’s a helluva fun time to be a Star Trek fan.

And while we’re waiting to see what comes of that? Maybe I’ll run “Farpoint” later tonight. Happy 32nd Birthday, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Go. Go see what’s out there.

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Happy 30th Anniversary, Alien Nation the TV series!

That was the scene in California’s Mojave Desert five years ago: our historic first view of the Newcomers’ ship. Theirs was a slave ship, carrying a quarter million beings bred to adapt and labor in any environment. But they’ve washed ashore on Earth, with no way to get back to where they came from, and in the last five years the Newcomers have become the latest addition to the population of Los Angeles.”

Cue funky opening music and credits.

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Los Angeles, 1995: Aliens are everywhere.

After their very massive starship crashes on Earth, 250,000 genetically engineered aliens who call themselves “Tenctonese” find themselves forced to assimilate into a world very different from the one to which they’d been heading. The people already living here also find themselves dealing with the very harsh reality that not only is there life “out there,” but there’s actually quite a lot of it. If one ship full of alien slaves can find their way to Earth, what about the people who enslaved them? What about any other enemies they might have? What would such people think of humans, and what if they decide we’re a threat?

Meanwhile, the Tenctonese just want to live, pay their bills, watch crappy TV, and basically take advantage of the unexpected gift of freedom they’ve received, but are they truly free? While many humans have welcomed these “Newcomers,” there are many others who’d be happy to see them climb back into their ship and fly away. Since that’s not really an option, such people are okay with taking more extreme steps to keep “Earth for earthlings.”

Then there’s Matt Sikes, cynical and halfway burnout police detective, who’s kinda sorta okay with the Newcomers, even though his last name when translated into Tenctonese is two words that mean “excrement” and “cranium” or “shit head.”

Then they make a Newcomer his partner. Whoops.

Continue reading “Happy 30th Anniversary, Alien Nation the TV series!”

Happy 45th anniversary to Planet of the Apes…the TV series!

Yeah, I can see some of you younger folks out there, giving me that Kevin Hart blinking side-eye GIF. You’ll just have to bear with me as we dive headlong into a nice inviting pool of nostalgia.

I know. Again.

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The success of 1968’s Planet of the Apes film spawned four (Count ’em! Four!) sequels over the ensuing five years. However, as budgets dwindled with each successive installment and returns on investment following suit, the fifth film, 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes, was viewed by many as the franchise finally running out of steam. That said, each of the five films made money, so the idea continuing to do something with the property was still very much a real thing.

Continue reading “Happy 45th anniversary to Planet of the Apes…the TV series!”

Happy 80th Birthday, Lee Majors!

The Six Million Dollar Man himself celebrates his 80th birthday today!

It’s been a bit since I saw him pop up anywhere. He looked great from the photos I saw from the set of Fuller House where he along with Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner guest-starred last year. They both still look great, and I hope I have half his energy when I’m his age.

Also? I fervently maintain that Lee Majors has the manliest running stride in the history of running men. Fight me.

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Geek Fact: When I was a kid, I so wanted a jacket like the one in this pic.

Geek Fact 2: I kinda still do.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Majors!

Today is National Film Score Day!

Who knew?

Not me. At least, not until I read about it thanks to one of my Facebook friends. As odd days of observance go, this one isn’t too shabby at all.

What are we talking about? According to the National Day Calendar website, National Film Score Day “recognizes the musical masterpieces called “Film Scores” and, more specifically, the very talented composers who create them.”

Sweet!

Though it’s been a while since I’ve written on the subject, those of you who spend any time here likely know that I’m a huge fan of film and TV music and love listening to it apart from the production for which it was created. It’s also my habit to listen to such music when I’m writing, as it always helps to set the “right mood” for the project-in-progress.

A well-crafted film score is a thing of beauty. The first album I ever bought with my own money was the vinyl 2-record LP score for the original Star Wars in 1977.

Since then, my library has continued to grow not just with music from newer film television and productions but also “expanded” or “complete” editions of scores from days gone by which were only made available in truncated form due to the limitations of the medium (LP records, cassette tapes, 8-track tapes, and even CDs once they took over). Thanks to companies like La-La Land Records and Intrada I’ve been able to enjoy updated, expanded, and remastered versions of scores of older films, and in some cases it’s like hearing the music for the first time EVEN THOUGH I know every note by heart.

STTMP-SoundtrackCoverWhat are some of my favorites? Well, some obvious suspects are the various Star Trek films, in particular Jerry Goldsmith’s The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier, and First Contact, James Horner’s The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, and Michael Giacchino’s music for all three of the reboot films. Everything John Williams has ever done for the Star Wars saga goes on the list, too, but I also must give props to Michael Giacchino for Rogue One and John Powell for Solo. 

Superman-ScoreJerry Goldsmith is well represented in my library, including personal favorites Planet of the Apes (1968), Rambo: First Blood, Part II (yes, really), Alien, Total Recall, L.A. Confidential, Outland, and 1999’s The Mummy. James Horner also had a lot going on beyond his Star Trek work, and I especially dig Aliens, Apollo 13, Sneakers, Glory, The RocketeerCommando, and Titanic (that’s right; I said it). And you can’t have a film score collection without stuff by John Williams, including stuff by John Williams that’s not Star Wars, which is good because I absolutely love the music he created for Jaws, the Indiana Jones films, Saving Private Ryan, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and…of course…Superman.

My taste in film music runs the gamut from Pirates of the Caribbean to The American President, Die Hard, or The Incredibles, or from The Shawshank Redemption to Gladiator, The Martian, or Black Hawk Down. Bill Conti’s The Right Stuff is wondrous. Old-school offerings like The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven or The Day the Earth Stood Still are in there, too. The truth is that I’m all over the map with this kind of thing. I hear it while watching the film and know I just have to have it without everybody yakking over it or everything blowing up around it.

TV’s the same way. Yes, Star Trek gets a lot of play around here (occupational hazard, you know), but what about Lost In Space or Mission: Impossible or Alien Nation? Battlestar Galactica? Hell, even seaQuest is in there.

I could do this all day, people.

So, Happy “National Film Score Day.” I think it’s time to stick a little of that action in my ears while I continue to write.

A Superman “mystery?”

I don’t typically advertise when I’m away on vacation, preferring instead to surprise readers after I’m back and let you know that HEY! I was on vacation last week.

So, HEY! I was on vacation last week.

It was an epic road trip in which Clan Ward joined forces with two other families with whom we’ve become good friends since our move to Ward Manor 2.0 in 2014. Our kids all go to the same schools, participate in the neighborhood swim team and other local activities, and my wife along with one of the other wives actually works for the third wife, so we find ourselves together in all sorts of weather and circumstances. 😀

This time, it was a 2,100-or so mile excursion: first to Nashville, Tennessee, where we spent mine and Michi’s 28th anniversary and St. Patrick’s Day. We followed that with a jaunt to Destin, Florida for a few days lounging on the beach, checking out local sites, and eating all manner of things plundered from the ocean that was RIGHT THERE. The last couple of days were spent in Hot Springs, Arkansas at the historic Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa, located right in the heart of the action directly across the street from Hot Springs National Park, Bathhouse Row, and all sorts of local coolness.

It was this past Saturday afternoon, as Michi and the girls were availing themselves of the hotel’s embedded Starbucks cafe when the barista started making small talk, which brings us to the reason for this latest blog posting and its title. As she prepared the girls’ triple latte double caff whatevers, the barista pointed to a building across the street and casually mentioned, “They used it for the Daily Planet building in the old Superman TV series.”

Continue reading “A Superman “mystery?””

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Planet of the Apes!

Yep, it’s time for another walk down Nostalgia Lane that you didn’t ask for and probably don’t need. Since that’s the running theme of this entire blog thing of mine, we can at least agree I’m consistent.

Back at the beginning of the year, I decided that I would offer up an irregularly-recurring feature that I’d use to revisit favorite movie and TV tie-in books. After taking a fond look back at novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman and knowing that I wanted to avoid talking too much about Star Trek novels (at least right away), it seems obvious to me that the next old-timey series deserving of some love is Planet of the Apes!

As is true of Star Trek and the “Bionic shows,” Planet of the Apes was another series (of movies and television shows, in this case) that I came to love very early on. Though I never saw any of the original five films in theaters, I did watch both of the subsequent television series as best I could during their original broadcasts in 1974-75. Just as I was learning about books based on the other two franchises around this time, so too did I discover the same was true of Apes.

First I found a copy of Pierre Boulle‘s original 1963 novel at the library, after which I found a paperback of Jerry Pournelle’s novelization of Escape from the Planet of the Apes occupying space on a department store book rack. Unlike the Star Trek novels and episode adaptations which seemed to be everywhere, tracking down the books tying into the other Apes films would prove to be much more challenging.

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(Left: the cover that seemed to dominate re-issues of the original novel throughout the 1970s and into the early 80s. Right: The cover on the edition I own.)

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Planet of the Apes!”

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman!

A while back, I mentioned that I might be doing an irregularly-recurring feature here in the blogspace, in which I’ll revisit favorite movie and TV tie-in books. As I mentioned in that introductory post, I’ll probably avoid talking about Star Trek novels and such to a large degree, as they already get a lot of attention in these parts (occupational hazard, you know).

This means I’ve got more room for other books and series, from childhood favorites to newer offerings. The former category is likely to get more play early on because the tie-in books of my youth filled a void that nowadays is largely addressed by the easy access to favorite TV shows and movies which did not exist in those days. With that in mind, I knew from the jump that I’d likely start with one of two other fondly remembered “franchises,” and after a coin toss I decided to go with the novelized adventures of Steve Austin, astronaut; a man barely alive and how they rebuilt him and made him better stronger, faster, etc.

For those who don’t know, the television series The Six Million Dollar Man began life as a 1973 TV movie which was broadly adapted from the author Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg, which was published the previous year. The movie hits most of the wickets laid out in the book, but Steve Austin – the test pilot who suffers ghastly injuries during a flight accident and later “rebuilt” using cybernetic components – is presented as a rather more likable character than his prose counterpart. For this first TV outing, there are also a few changes to Austin’s abilities and the depictions of his bionics, many of which would be tweaked by the time the television series came along.

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman!”

Happy 52nd Birthday, “Arena!”

On January 19th, 1967, Captain James T. Kirk faced off against a formidable foe. Trapped on a barren planetoid, he has no choice but to find some way to defeat his enemy in a battle for the ages.

I have many favorite episodes of the original Star Trek series, but “Arena,” the 18th episode of the show’s first season, is at the top of my list. When I was a kid, the draw was Captain Kirk being a badass, facing off against a scary enemy that’s as cunning as he is while outmatching him in strength and ferocity. As I grew older and started to see the different layers baked into various episodes, I gained a new appreciation for this particular story.

Written by Gene L. Coon, one of the original series’ tragically underappreciated contributors, “Arena” is also based on a short story written by Frederic Brown. It’s a prime example of what’s become a classic Star Trek trope, with our heroes encountering something mysterious, misunderstood, and perhaps dangerous only to learn something new about themselves while discovering the truth. The episode opens with a terrific action sequence and proceeds from there as Kirk turns almost obsessive in his desire to hunt down the alien ship which has just destroyed a Federation colony. The pursuit runs the Enterprise afoul of a previously unknown and very powerful alien race, the Metrons, who don’t like this confrontation that’s now on their doorstep. In response, they deposit Kirk and the captain of the alien ship, a reptilian Gorn, on the surface of a small planet and force them to fight one another to the death:

METRON: We are the Metrons. You are one of two crafts which have come into our space on a mission of violence. This is not permissible. Yet we have analyzed you and have learned that your violent tendencies are inherent. So be it. We will control them. We will resolve your conflict in the way most suited to your limited mentalities. Captain James Kirk.

KIRK: This is Kirk. 

METRON: We have prepared a planet with a suitable atmosphere. You will be taken there, as will the Captain of the Gorn ship which you have been pursuing. There you will settle your dispute.

KIRK: I don’t understand.

METRON: You will be provided with a recording-translating device, in hopes that a chronicle of this contest will serve to dissuade others of your kind from entering our system, but you will not be permitted to communicate with your ship. You will each be totally alone.

KIRK: What makes you think you can interfere with–

METRON: It is you who are interfering. We are simply putting a stop to it. The place we have prepared for you contains sufficient elements for either of you to construct weapons lethal enough to destroy the other, which seems to be your intention. The winner of the contest will be permitted to go his way unharmed. The loser, along with his ship, shall be destroyed in the interests of peace. The contest will be one of ingenuity against ingenuity, brute strength against brute strength. The results will be final. 

Oh, it’s on now.

Pretty much everyone knows how this story ends, with Kirk figuring out how to rig a crude bamboo cannon while fashioning gunpowder from the “sufficient elements” provided by the Metrons. He blasts the Gorn but doesn’t kill him, and at the last moment decides to spare the alien captain’s life. This is enough to impress the Metron and spare the crews of both ships:

METRON: By sparing your helpless enemy who surely would have destroyed you, you demonstrated the advanced trait of mercy, something we hardly expected. We feel there may be hope for your kind. Therefore, you will not be destroyed. It would not be civilized.

KIRK: What happened to the Gorn? 

GORN: I sent him back to his ship. If you like, I shall destroy him for you.

KIRK: No. That won’t be necessary. We can talk. Maybe reach an agreement.

METRON: Very good, Captain. There is hope for you. Perhaps in several thousand years, your people and mine shall meet to reach an agreement. You are still half savage, but there is hope. We will contact you when we are ready.

So, Kirk has that going for him, which is nice.

Yes, you can tell me that by modern production standards, “Arena” – like much of the series itself – looks hopelessly dated, but I don’t care. The strength of the story carries the day, here, triumphing over skimpy budgets and the limitations in costuming, prosthetic make-up, and physical and visual effects of the era in which it was made. I still love this episode, and it’s one of the those I list off whenever somebody is new to the show and wants to see what makes it tick. In so many ways, it is quintessentially Star Trek.

KIRK: We’re a most promising species, Mister Spock, as predators go. Did you know that?

SPOCK: I’ve frequently had my doubts. 

KIRK: I don’t. Not anymore. And maybe in a thousand years or so, we’ll be able to prove it. Never mind, Mister Spock. It doesn’t make much sense to me either. Take us back to where we’re supposed to be, Mister Sulu. Warp factor one.

SULU: Warp factor one.

SPOCK: A thousand years, Captain?

KIRK: Well, that gives us a little time.