Friday, May 26, 2017

Tribute 2017: Jared Martin (1941-2017)


The press is today reporting the death of Jared Martin (1941-2017), an actor who is likely best-known to TV fans as a regular on the prime-time soap opera Dallas (1978-1991).

That description only tells part of the story, however. Jared Martin was also -- for more than twenty-five years -- a beloved presence on science fiction and horror television programming.

Jared Martin was best known in the genre for playing the lead role in The Fantastic Journey (1977). In that series, Mr. Martin portrayed a pacifist from the future named Varian. Varian was trapped in the Bermuda Triangle with characters from Atlantis, and elsewhere.

More than a decade later, Jared Martin played the lead role of Dr. Harrison Blackwood on the syndicated hit War of the Worlds (1988-1990).


Mr. Martin also had memorable guest roles on many genre hits through the years. He appeared in "Tell David," a memorable segment of Rod Serling's Night Gallery (1969-1973), and in "Fear Factor," an episode of Logan's Run (1977).



Mr. Martin also appeared in TV series such as The Incredible Hulk, Fantasy Island, Tales of the Gold Monkey, Knight Rider, and Airwolf.  He truly was a ubiquitous presence throughout two-decades of programming.

I will always remember Mr. Martin, in particular, for his thoughtful performances as Varian, on The Fantastic Journey. He brought a great dignity and inner strength to that role that is not easily forgotten. Jared Martin played Varian as a man who led not by violence or threats or intimidation, but through his intelligence and curiosity.

My condolences to Mr. Martin's friends and family at this difficult time. Rest in peace, Jared Martin.

Planet of the Apes TV Series Blogging: "The Legacy" (October 11, 1974)


In “The Legacy,” refugees Virdon (Ron Harper), Burke (James Naughton) and Galen (Roddy McDowall) travel to the ruins of a 20th century city and discover a government think-tank there.  

The hologram of a long-dead scientist informs the visitors that in buildings around the world are seeded discs containing crucial scientific information that can save the human race. 

One such vault is in this very city.

Unfortunately, the ancient computer needs to be recharged, a task that becomes of primary importance to Virdon in his quest to return home to his family and the 20th century.  He and the others separate, in hopes of procuring supplies which can help them build a re-charger.

But Virdon is promptly captured by General Urko (Mark Lenard) and Dr. Zaius (Booth Colman) and held in a 20th century building that resembles a castle.

There, Zaius hopes to use a captured human female, Arn (Zina Bethune) and child, Kraik (Jackie Earle Haley) to gain Virdon’s confidence, believing that humans are “extremely vulnerable in family situations.”



Could man have ever known so much and done so little with it?” Galen asks his human friends in “The Legacy,” and that’s a good question.  

It’s an interrogative that gets right at the undercurrent of social commentary that runs through the 1974 series, and reminds viewers that man, after a fashion, is responsible  -- in this universe at least -- for his own destruction.

Unfortunately, the idea is not presented as clearly or as cleanly as it might be on Planet of the Apes because of some of the staging/background information/costuming choices we get here. 


For example, the hologram of the human scientist (Jon Lormer) appears at one point, and we see a wise old human in a futuristic kind of lab-coat or outfit.  How are we to square this gent’s futuristic appearance with the fact that the human race killed itself, essentially, in a nuclear war? 

How did humanity become advanced and destroy itself, in other words?  I don't believe that Virdon and Burke wore clothes like this in their everyday lives, so the implication is that this human existed long after they disappeared.  

So why does the city look so...mid-20th century?  

The Planet of the Apes TV series never quite explains these contradictions. The apes must rise because humanity falls. And humanity falls because of the species’ own, flawed, warring nature.  But this guy looks pretty peaceful and serene.

Overlooking this problem in internal historical consistency, “The Legacy” is still likely one of the stronger episodes of the short-lived series in part because it at least attempts to move forward the overall story-arc about the fall of man, and the mechanism by which Virdon hopes to return home and warn the species.

The episode’s title “The Legacy” also works dramatically in a number of intriguing ways. One of mankind’s legacies is the destroyed city itself, a place that was once a paradise but is now in ruins. 

To put a fine point on the matter: Destruction is humanity's legacy.

The vaults filled with scientific knowledge also represent man’s legacy.  They symbolize his ability to look to the future even when all seems lost in the present. Virdon is understandably giddy about excavating this particular legacy.  He waxes poetic about the idea of a “lot of long-forgotten ideas that would make this a nicer world.”  

In part, this is because Virdon is an optimist.  Even after everything, he would rather see the good in mankind than the evil.

Similarly, we might think of the a legacy in terms of Zaius’s dialogue about humanity being vulnerable in family situations.  

Virdon is a family man through and through, and that legacy of family leads him to accept Kraik and Arn as family members, at least after a fashion.  But the idea of family proves not to be the deadly weakness that Zaius hopes, but rather the strength by which the humans survive and endure.  

Eventually, this human family comes together, and escapes the trap Zaius has set.  Perhaps our legacy is that in bad times, we stick together, and accept others into our "tribe."


Finally, Virdon makes specific mention of a legacy in regards to the human custom of the hand-shake.  He notes that people don’t really know why they do it….they just do it.  The original purpose for the hand shake (involving the drawing of a sword...) is long since inoperative by the 20th century, and by Virdon's time. Yet the tradition endures.

This raises another significant question about mankind.  Is he simply a mindless being who does things by rote, because they are familiar to him?  Does this account for his propensity to make war?

Or does man lean on tradition and convention because they honor who he hopes to be as a species?  It is true that he makes war, but he also clings to family.

The idea of legacy, threaded throughout the episode, makes this installment a fairly-layered and compelling one.

Unfortunately, the story arc about the knowledge vaults introduced in “The Legacy” is never continued in the short-lived series.  It would have been great to see the astronauts go in search of and perhaps find another vault, one possessing different secrets.  This is a series with such a rich backdrop, and such rich potential.  And yet most of the stories fail to mine the possibilities.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Happy 40th Anniversary, Star Wars (May 25, 1977)


 

I will always remember the summer of 1977 and the coming of Star Wars.  It is difficult for me to reckon that it happened forty long years ago.

Where has the time gone?

I was in second grade in 1977, and a friend who lived up the block from me in Glen Ridge, N.J. came to school one morning clutching a Star Wars movie booklet; one that featured imagery of Dewbacks, Banthas, Tusken Raiders, Jawas, C3PO, Chewbacca, Darth Vader and other characters of seemingly impossible and unbelievable imagination. 

I had never seen so many strange creatures assembled between two covers, and I so listened in awe as Stephen, my friend, described the film to me in some detail. I still didn't quite understand why robots were co-existing with monsters and other creatures. 



It seemed...weird.

At this point, I should add, I was still high on King Kong (1976), and could not quite believe that any movie might possibly surpass that particular viewing experience.  

So sue me.  I was seven.

Soon after my introduction via Stephen to Star Wars, my parents took me and my sister to see the film at a movie theater in Paramus N.J., and I couldn’t wait to see what I would make of the movie.


Only -- in actuality -- I could wait. 

In line. 

For close to three hours. 

The line at the theater stretched around the large rectangular building -- around three corners -- and then led out into the huge parking lot. And the line moved at a snail’s pace.

Finally, of course, we got into the auditorium, and it was absolutely packed. Everyone in my family had to squeeze past other patrons to find four seats together. For awhile, it looked like that might not even be a possibility.

And then the movie started, and my life changed.  The movie swept me away into another world; nay another reality. My father remembers to this day, that he actually felt breathless during the final Death Star attack scene, it was so exciting.

That's how I felt too.

That night -- before I went to bed -- my mother asked me if I had liked the movie. My mind was still reeling, and I said that I did.  But I suppose I was a little reserved in my answer. 

She then absolved me of my guilt: “It’s okay, John if you liked it better than King Kong,” she said, apparently sensing my loyalty and allegiance to the big ape.  

My façade cracked quickly at that point and I was glad and relieved to admit the truth.

I had liked Star Wars a whole lot better than King Kong.  It truly was…amazing, like nothing I had ever imagined.  

But at that point, I could not imagine what Star Wars would one day become, or how it would change our world.

I did not imagine, at age seven, that the film would open up the floodgates for other space movies that I would come to love and cherish, like Alien (1979), The Black Hole (1979), and Moonraker (1979).

I did not imagine that George Lucas's vision would change the shape of television, a medium which would soon bring us Battlestar Galactica (1978-1981), and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1982).

I did not understand that Star Wars' success would be the impetus to finally bring back the long-on-hiatus Star Trek franchise.

Nor did I understand that the film would shape science fiction and fantasy cinema for decades to come.

And finally, I could not imagine that one day I would be taking my very own nine year old son out of school early to catch an afternoon show of a Star Wars sequel (The Force Awakens) or prequel (Rogue One).  

Star Wars has, finally, become something that I share with a different family; with my wife and son.

At seven -- way back in 1977 -- I suppose, I was just thinking about my favorite character, Han Solo, and how cool it would be to play Star Wars (1977) on the playground at school with my friends.

Forty years have now passed, and I am, a middle-aged man. That school playground is back, quite a distance, in my rear-view mirror. There is more white than red in my beard now. 

But Star Wars endures, evergreen, -- a veritable cinematic fountain of youth.  

It is a story, and represents a kind of storytelling that -- across the generations -- possesses the power to make each one of us feel young again. It is a call to adventure of an innocent and joyful type.  It evokes childhood, and yet is not childish.

Where were you, and how old were you, when you first saw Star Wars?  

Let me know in the comments section below.  And happy fortieth birthday to Star Wars.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tribute: Sir Roger Moore (1927-2017)


I am reeling from the news, just reported, that Sir Roger Moore (1927-2017), has passed away following a short struggle with cancer.  

It was just a few short weeks ago here on the blog that I answered a question from a reader about why Roger Moore was, in some ways, the critical factor in the survival of the 007 film series in its second decade.

I  have appreciated his film performances as 007 since I was ten years old.


Indeed, I grew up with Roger Moore as James Bond, and the first Bond film I saw in theaters was 1979's Moonraker.  Right from the start, I loved Moore's humor and grace in the role of 007, and I have always felt that his contributions to the franchise were wildly (and grossly) underestimated.

Moore truly made the character his own, instead of attempting to ape Sean Connery's performances, and that choice by Moore, I believe, contributed immeasurably to the longevity of the character. That choice also paved the way for the interpretations of Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.

Sir Roger Moore played the role of Bond in a total seven films, from 1973-1985.

These films are: Live and Let Die (1973), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985).

For Your Eyes Only is, for me, a high point for Moore's era as 007. I actually liked his interpretation of Bond even more as the actor aged. As he grew older, Moore brought in a kind of world-weariness to go along with the arched eyebrows and white dinner jacket. I found this approach enormously appealing, as it added gravitas to the charm and humor.


Sir Roger Moore's long career encompassed more than 007, of course. He starred in TV series such as Ivanhoe (1958-1959), The Alaskan (1959-1960), Maverick (1960-1961), The Saint (1962-1967), and The Persuaders (1971-1972).  

Outside of acting, Sir Roger Moore is well-known as a humanitarian, and for many years served as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.

He was a secret agent at the movies, but a superhero of sorts, in real life. He will be greatly missed.

Farewell, Mr. Bond.