Saturday, January 19, 2008

Treat Her Like a Lady

In short, that's the sum total of my advice to producer/director J.J. Abrams.

Treat the starship Enterprise in the new Star Trek movie like a lady...and she'll always bring you (and the box office...) home.

In fairness, this philosophy appears to be precisely the approach Abrams has already adopted. Like every other geek on the net, I've seen images from the teaser trailer, which reveal the new Enterprise, NCC-1701, under construction, and I have to admit...I'm very impressed. The design of the ship, no matter what the nitpickers say, is certainly as close to the 1960s design as was the 1979 Motion Picture version. This isn't an "almost totally new Enterprise" as Commander Decker might say, but a familiar ship with familiar details. It looks beautiful and awe-inspiring; like a lady I could very much fall in love with.

In the months ahead, we're all going to be tempted to second guess the new movie. Is the right actor playing young Kirk? Do the Vulcans look like Romulans? Where is Gary Mitchell? Didn't Kirk serve on the Farragut before serving on the Enterprise? That's what fans like us do. We can't help it. I know I can't help it.

But we should also remember the inconvenient truth that Star Trek has never been 100% faithful to its own history. Remember when it was set in the 28th century ("The Squire of Gothos") or when Spock was a "Vulcanian?" Remember how the Enterprise served in that famous organization called UESPA (United Earth Space Probe Agency...)? Remember how the bridge of the Klingon Bird of Prey inexplicably changed designs between Star Trek III and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home? Peel back a few layers of Star Trek and you can see that there are plenty of contradictions and continuity errors.

Now don't misinterpret me. I want a faithful Star Trek movie, but at the same time, I desperately want a Star Trek movie that my son Joel, when he is old enough, will love. I want a film that will inspire a generation of kids. I want today's kids to grow up with a reinvigorated, exciting, adventurous and bold Star Trek...a moral, progressive and heartfelt franchise like the one I grew up with and which, in many ways, made me the person I am today. I don't want Next Gen political correctness, I don't want the Love Boat in Space where the crew's family beams up to the Enterprise to go through some uninspiring family drama. I don't want fictional adventures in Holodecks...that's masturbation, not boldly going. And I don't want the United Nations in Space. I want what Star Trek was once about: space exploration....going where no man has gone before. I want excitement, adventure, and heart. I want Captain Horatio Hornblower in space again...not some kind of incestuous, insular vision that only a few die-hard Trekkies can appreciate. We must re-define faithful, I believe, in this case. I want a film that is faithful to Star Trek's pioneer spirit and Star Trek's swashbuckling heart. If I get that, but Kirk never served on the Farragut, be it.

So let's hope Abrams treats the Enterprise like that bold lady of the stars that launched on TV screens on September 8, 1966. Today - watching that teaser trailer - I feel that's exactly what he's going to do. I must admit, it makes me feel...young.

Listen to last night's Destinies!

My wonderful friend (and fellow Space:1999 aficionado) Phil Merkel has uploaded last night's Destinies episode, in which Howard Margolin and I discuss Season Two of The House Between. I had a great time doing the show (my ninth appearance on Destinies...) and as usual Howard was a thorough, prepared and witty host. You can listen to the entire broadcast here.

Also, at Phil's super cool site, you can see he has created a pretty nifty collage of The House Between images. How cool is that? I posted one banner above, but he's assembled a number of images from the updcoming second season, and tied them all together with - what else? - that mysterious house at the end of the universe.

Thanks, Phil! Thanks, Howard!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction in 30 Minutes

Hey everybody, don't forget, I'm on live with Dr. Howard Margolin at 11:30 pm, EST, on Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction. We're talking about The House Between and the upcoming second season. Join us, won't you?

The House Between: "Returned" Teaser

I can't believe it, but it's just one short week until The House Between 2.0 begins. The premiere episode is titled "Returned," and today I wanted to feature a teaser for the episode. Next week, I'll be blogging my director's notes for the episode, covering the writing, shooting and editing of "Returned." And boy do I have some stories to tell...

And don't forget, I'm on Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction tonight to talk about the entire second season with Dr. Howard Margolin. Tune in

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The House Between Meets Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction

I'm honored and happy to be appearing as a guest on Dr. Howard Margolin's long-running genre radio talk show, Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction, this Friday night, January 18, at 11:30 pm.

We will be discussing the return of The House Between and its second season (which begins a week from Friday, the 25th.)

This will be my ninth appearance on Destinies, and I'm looking forward to it with great anticipation, in no small part because it's a special occasion for the long-running radio show. My appearance on Friday will mark Howard's 850th consecutive show. Wow! I'm glad I'll get the chance to congratulate him on this achievement.

Make sure you tune in to see if I reveal any series spoilers. (My producers will kill me...). You can tune in here.

CULT TV FLASHBACK #46: Prey: "Existence"

"We've just been bumped down the food chain."

That was the tag line for ABC's short-lived science-fiction/horror TV series from 1998. Entitled Prey, the series was created by William Schmidt and featured a pre-stardom Debra Messing (of Will & Grace fame) as intrepid Sloane Parker, a geneticist at Whitney University's Department of Anthropology. In the first episode, she discovered that a hostile new species - a lookalike species - was gaining power in North America.

"Neanderthals ruled for 300,000 years," the first episode of Prey (entitled "Existence") reminds viewers. "They must have thought nothing would ever stand in the way of their dominance," lectures Sloane's boss, Dr. Ann Coulter (no, not her...). She also informs the audience that "two species cannot occupy the same ecological niche at the same time."

This warning means that homo sapiens and the new species, known as homo dominants, are bound for a clash. Throughout the thirteen hour-long episodes of Prey that aired from January 15, 1998 to July 9, 1998, that's precisely what happened, with Sloane, her assistant, Dr. Ed Tate (Vincent Ventresca) and one of the dominants, Tom Daniels (Adam Storke) investigating the history, evolution and plans of this new threat to mankind.

It is learned in "Existence," for instance, that not only do the dominants Walk Among Us, but they may have originated from what Sloane describes as "environmental disruption," in particular global warming. She describes the phenomenon as being one that's been occurring for a hundred years, not a decade. Paging Al Gore! We also learn that the homo dominants share less in common with humans than we do with chimps. There's just a 1.1 gene differentiation between humans and chimps, while there's a 1.6 differentiation between human and dominant. Sloan and Ed also find out in "Existence" (to their dismay) that there are at least six of the dominants somewhere in Southern California...and many of them are murderers and monsters like the serial killer Richard Lynch.

Prey originated in the Golden Age of X-Files-spawned television. You remember, don't you? The epoch of Dark Skies (1996), Sleepwalkers (1997), The Burning Zone (1997), Strange World (1999) and the like. None of these series lasted very long, though some (like Dark Skies and Prey) showed tremendous promise.

Over the course of Prey's dozen or so episodes, Sloan grew close to Tom Daniels, and learned that the dominants were utterly lacking in human emotions but had ESP ("Discovery"), and were bent on the total domination of the human race. One episode, "Progeny" gazed at the issue of high school violence just months before Columbine. Yet Prey was truly prophetic in the sense that it forecasted the pervasive Age of Terror fear that the person beside you is actually a scary "other," not a sleeper agent, insurgent or suicide bomber, but a malevolent extra-species agent out to get you.

Prey was an efficient horror initiative because it focused on the ultimate apocalypse scenario for our species, mankind's involuntary replacement at the hands of superior beings. Yet those beings are not aliens or monsters, as is typical for the genre, but rather personifications the process of evolution, Mother Nature herself. Since Darwin and his theories are the incipient force behind Prey, the series raised provocative questions about survival of the fittest, our own prehistory (we supplanted the Neanderthals 40,000 years ago, why shouldn't the same happen to us now?) and of course, our own assumed destiny as the dominant life form on the planet.

Each episode of Prey handled these ideas well, and in extremely entertaining fashion, making it a series which ultimately obsessed on the nature of humanity. For instance, emotions do not exist in the Homo dominants. Does this fact reveal that emotions are actually destructive, an impediment to human survival, and therefore a quality to be bred out of our successors? Or does the lack of emotion in the new species signal the fact that Homo dominants represent a blind alley, genetically speaking, a creature less perfect than the one who came before?

Such notions of evolution are played out here on a stage filled with paranoia. The Homo dominants look like us, so they can infiltrate government agencies, hospitals, schools, law enforcement and the like, and do grave damage to human institutions. Prey thus remembers that the one essential fact of human existence is that all persons stand alone and separate inside their own head. We do not know what other people are thinking because we are individual, lonely organisms who depend on clumsy tools like the written word or spoken language to convey ideas. Prey exploits this fact by putting its protagonists into situations where it is difficult, if not impossible, to guess who is "the real enemy." To coin a phrase, Sloane can trust no one. At least not without conducting a DNA test first.

Given such a contemporary, relevant premise (in the War on Terror Age), Prey's only big flaw as a genre initiative was that it was ahead of its time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Saturday Morning Blast from the Past

What I'm Reading Now...

From the back cover: "When Star Trek debuted in 1966, it presented an inspiring vision of a voyage into the unknown reaches of space. Now one of the longest running and most multifaceted franchises in television history, Star Trek has addressed everything from social, political, philosophical, and ethical issues to progressive and humanist representations of race, gender and class.

These essays contend that Star Trek is not just a set of television series, but part of the identity of the millions who watch and read the films, television episodes, books and fan stories..."

Some of the essays in the book include: "Crossing the Racial Frontier: Star Trek and Mixed Heritage Identities," "Save the Whales and Beware Wilderness: Star Trek and American Environmental Views," and "Eight Days That Changed American Television: Kirk's Opening Narration."

I'm looking forward to delving more deeply into this one.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Don't You Need An Arlo Apron?

Or perhaps I could interest you in a Midnight Wall Clock?

The House Between
Merchandise Store is now open for business (with all receipts going to production of the third season...) . Go ahead, you know you want that apron...

McFarland's Latest Film Books

Here's what's currently on tap from McFarland, the premier publisher of film and television reference books. I'm particularly interested in the Kubrick and Chaplin books. In college, I participated in the making of a modern Chaplin-style film short, and I know from first-hand experience how he made the incredibly difficult look positively effortless. As for Kubrick, I never get tired of re-visiting his work, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to A Clockwork Orange to Full Metal Jacket to Eyes Wide Shut.

This comprehensive reference guide introduces James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon for contemporary students and general readers. The opening section provides a summary of Hilton’s life and describes his circumstances at the time of writing the novel. This is followed with a chapter-by-chapter summary of the plot, a glossary of words and phrases which may be helpful to twenty-first century readers, and an alphabetically arranged guide to the novel’s characters. In addition, the author examines the initial critical reception of the book, its publishing history, and the success of its major film adaptations in separate chapters. Several appendices provide recommended questions for discussion and Hilton’s original preface to Lost Horizon.

Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick had a great talent for creating memorable images—such as his famous jump cut from a bone tossed into the prehistoric sky to a spaceship orbiting the earth in 2001. Like the composer of a great symphony, Kubrick also had the ability to draw his memorable moments into a lyrical whole. Balancing harmony with discord, he kept viewers on edge by constantly shifting relationships among the dramatic elements in his movies. The results often confounded expectations and provoked controversy, right up through Eyes Wide Shut, the last film of his life.This book is an intensive, scene-by-scene analysis of Kubrick’s most mature work—seven meticulously wrought films, from Dr. Strangelove to Eyes Wide Shut. In these films, Kubrick dramatized the complexity and mutability of the human struggle, in settings so diverse that some critics have failed to see the common threads. Rasmussen traces those threads and reveals the always shifting, always memorable, always passionately rendered pattern

The Art of Charlie Chaplin
This thorough critical study of Chaplin’s films traces his acting career chronologically, from his initial appearance in 1914’s Making a Living to his final starring role in 1957’s A King in New York. Emphasizing Chaplin’s technique and the steady evolution of his Tramp character, the author frames the biographical details of Chaplin’s life within the context of his acting and filmmaking career, giving special attention to the films Chaplin directed/produced.

Music and Mythmaking in Film
This work studies the conventions of music scoring in major film genres (e.g., science fiction, hardboiled detective, horror, historical romance, western), focusing on the artistic and technical methods that modern composers employ to underscore and accompany the visual events. Each chapter begins with an analysis of the major narrative and scoring conventions of a particular genre and concludes with an in-depth analysis of two film examples from different time periods. Several photographic stills and sheet music excerpts are included throughout the work, along with a select bibliography and discography.

Theme Song of the Week # 13: VR.5 (1995)