LIFEPOD (1981) – Previously Balladeer’s Blog examined the worst movies from the Robert Emenegger/ Allan Sandler collaboration, most of them with Steven Spielberg’s sister Anne … plus half the Cameron Mitchell family. With Lifepod, we return to E-Space (Emenegger Space. Sorry, Doctor Who fans.). This time, however, it’s with an underrated movie that makes you root for it despite its budgetary limitations.
The year is 2191. The moons of Jupiter have been colonized and are called the Jupiter States. A company nostalgically called the White Star Line has begun providing a spaceship cruise line to and from the Jupiter States. The flagship in this new line is called the Arcturus, with a state-of-the-art propulsion system and a revolutionary AI called a Cerebral running the ship.
As the Arcturus, on its maiden run, approached Callisto, the Cerebral announced massive system failures and began shutting down life support systems while ordering the crew and passengers to evacuate in lifepods and await rescue from Callisto’s authorities. In their Mayday broadcasts the crew make it clear they no longer trusted Captain Montaine (Christopher Cary), who insisted the Arcturus was fine and the Cerebral was just malfunctioning.
The picture becomes further confused when the Arcturus‘ engines restart and it flies off now that the passengers are gone. Continue reading
Steven Spielberg’s sister Anne got her start as a producer for many of the cheapjack science fiction films of Robert Emenegger and Allan Sandler. She had worked with them – and Cameron Mitchell – as far back as 1975’s Death: The Ultimate Mystery. With apologies to fans of the original Doctor Who series, to me “E-Space” will always mean EMENEGGER SPACE, as in the Emenegger-verse of his series of movies in 1980 and 1981.
Emenegger Space is full of Grade Z special effects, bad acting, a few good ideas and an overall feel of striving for Alien and Star Trek levels but falling far, far short.
WARP SPEED (1981) – Set in the far-off year 2013 (!) this movie features the crew of a spaceship sent to determine what happened to the vanished crew of a multi-year mission to Saturn. The organization they serve is called Starfleet, which serves as a reminder that by 1981 there was just the original Star Trek series, its cartoon version and one movie, not the enormous universe of spin-offs that we have today. Point being that the term Starfleet was apparently open for use by other creators. Starfleet features in another Spielberg/ Emenegger/ Sandler joint, too.
Adam West plays Captain Lofton, the leader of the now-lost mission, and has assorted offspring of Cameron Mitchell backing him up in this movie. One such Mitchell, Camille, stars as Dr Janet Trask, a psychic who is sent into the abandoned Atlas vessel to investigate the cause of the crew’s disappearance.
Trask is outfitted with tech which sends back images of the psychic visions she receives of past events on the ghost-ship. Amid assorted David Lynch-style psychosexual interludes we see disaster strike the Atlas, followed by an aborted mission and ultimately a mutiny as the crew try to get the damaged craft back to the Earth. Continue reading
OBJECT Z (1965) – Directed by Daphne Shadwell and written by Christopher McMaster, this was one of the many six-episode science fiction serials from British television of the 1950s and 1960s. The Quatermass serials are among the best remembered of those programs but there were also items like The Trollenberg Terror, a serial later adapted into the B-Movie The Crawling Eye.
If you’ve seen any of the other British programs like this you’ll know what to expect and whether or not you’ll enjoy this one. Personally I find them fun AND fun-bad all at once so to me they’re more than worth watching.
The storyline in Object Z involves the sighting of a distant space object which, as it draws nearer to the Earth, is determined to be at least six miles long and made of either stone or metal. Soon it becomes clear that it is going to collide with the Earth. Continue reading
ISLAND OF THE LOST (1967) – Directed by John Florea and written by Richard Carlson and Ivan Tors, this family adventure movie starred Richard Greene, known for playing Robin Hood in the 1950s television series and for playing Sir Denis Nayland Smith in a few of the Fu Manchu movies from the 1960s.
In addition to Greene, Island of the Lost provides additional cultural kitsch appeal: You’ve got producer Ivan Tors of Flipper fame dragging along Luke Halpin, the boy star of that series. Ivan also seems to have brought along a LOT of Flipper stock footage for the underwater scenes. Jose de Vega from Blue Hawaii is also in the cast as are soap opera queen Robin Mattson and the ubiquitous Irene Tsu. Plus the screenwriter is THE Richard Carlson, star of many b-movies.
Richard Greene AND Richard Carlson? You know that with a couple of Dicks like them around we are in for some campiness and lame special effects that might have been acceptable in the 1950s … in black & white, not color.
Greene portrays Professor Josh MacRae, a scholar who is convinced that there are undiscovered islands in the Pacific Ocean, islands on which live creatures long thought extinct. Like so many movie professors, he organizes his own expedition to try to prove his theory. And if he dies in the attempt he plans to take his whole family down with him! Continue reading
Here at Independent Voter site Balladeer’s Blog, I can’t help but reflect on how less than three full years ago when this blog post used America’s increasingly totalitarian Big Tech fascists as examples for dystopian literature, it seemed like the dire possibilities explored might come within a decade or just under.
Unfortunately, in less than those three years that I mentioned we’ve seen privileged white male one-percenters like Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg EXCEED many of the abuses I wrote about in what was then (2018) fiction.
If you enjoy the article below, HERE is a link to a 2018 article about AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL pointing out how Google and Facebook threaten human rights. And HERE is a link to another such article. The lesson being “Don’t try to say that Big Tech won’t abuse their money and power after all that we’ve seen.”
THE TECHNO-TYRANTS OF SILICON VALLEY (2018) – The modern-day versions of the disgusting old Robber Barons might well be the corporate fascists aka techno-fascists in assorted tech industries, not just regarding Silicon Valley but also privacy-violating rich pigs at Facebook and elsewhere.
In fact, you could make the case that people like Mark “Skippy” Zuckerberg and his fellow corporate fascists are even worse since I don’t recall bloated rich pigs like E.H. Harriman or Cornelius Vanderbilt trying to police other people’s every thought, word and deed. The invasive and ever-expanding tentacular reach of techno-fascists or in this fictional case Techno-Tyrants would make these villains a very credible threat to political freedom and freedom of expression. Continue reading
Thank you to all of you who have expressed condolences over recent family events. You people are the greatest!
MY COUSIN’S AIRSHIP, A TALE OF 1950 (1902) – Written by W.F. Alexander. Though written in 1902 this story is set in a fictional 1950 which has seen incredible scientific advances.
The action begins in England, where our narrator lives with his true love Margaret. His cousin Stephen Rankin – a former rival for Margaret’s affections – is a nasty mean-spirited mad scientist figure.
Stephen has invented a new type of aerocar which can travel 45 miles per hour, which we readers are told makes it the fastest aircraft of 1950. (!) As a peace-making gesture the inventor invites our narrator along for a joyride in the airship. Continue reading
MYSTERIOUS PLANET (1982) – Written, produced and directed by Brett Piper, this was his first film ever and it manages to be bad in every conceivable way, running the gamut from fun-bad to boring-bad to incomprehensibly bad and even rising to “how could you NOT be ashamed to release this under your real name” bad at times.
Mysterious Planet is, as the opening titles say, “very freely based” on Jules Verne’s novel Mysterious Island. If you’ll recall, that book featured Civil War POWs escaping in a hot-air balloon and being taken far off course to a mysterious island. In this movie, which may be set in the far future or in deep space given the level of technology, a spaceship loaded with medical supplies is the vessel which transports our main characters.
Some reviews of this movie claim our heroes are escaped prisoners or prisoners of war but nothing in the actual film supports that. Those reviewers may just be assuming they were POWs simply because the characters in Mysterious Island were. The dialogue is so hard to understand that I can’t really blame any reviewers for jumping to conclusions while trying to make sense of this jumbled mess.
As the story opens, some kind of space fleet is informing all of its ships that no take-offs will be permitted until an “asteroid storm” passes through. Most of the captains are content to obey, but not Commander Rogan (Paula Taupier), the combined captain and science officer of the medical transport ship. (If you can make out the name of the vessel you’ve got me beaten, and I replayed most of the dialogue several times to pick out what nuggets of information I could.)
Rogan argues over the radio with her superiors and insists that the inhabitants of some planet whose name I could not make out are in desperate need of the supplies on board her ship. Our heroine is still insisting she should be allowed to take off when fate intervenes on her behalf.
A fleet of some alien race whose name I could not understand attacks the star-base and amid all the chaos, Commander Rogan takes off without permission so she can get the desperately needed medical supplies to the Whoevers. Rogan’s craft tangles with some of the raiders while simultaneously dodging asteroids from the storm/ swarm. Continue reading
SIX-HUNDRED & SIXTY SIX (1972) – Directed by Tom Doades and written by Marshall Riggan, this film is a very unusual blend of science fiction, horror, post-apocalypse drama and religious message. Cult actor Joe Turkel, perhaps best known as the ghostly Lloyd the Bartender in The Shining, stars as Colonel John Ferguson.
Before I go further I want to point out once again how films can serve as indicators of what was or was not prominent in the public consciousness during the time of their release. This particular movie came out in 1972, meaning that the use of gematria to arrive at 666 as the Number of the Beast was not yet as firmly lodged in the minds of movie-goers as it would be after The Omen became a sensation a few years later.
Obviously, a post-Omen film would not blow their story’s final reveal in the title, like we get with Six-Hundred & Sixty Six.
As our story begins, Colonel John Ferguson is reporting to a man called Tallman (Byron Clark) for his new position as Head of Operations at an underground installation in the American west. Conversation between the Colonel and Tallman, the highest civilian authority at the base, provides plenty of exposition.
It is an undisclosed time in the near future. The United States of America and “the United States of Europe” have been joined into one big political entity known as the New Roman Empire. In fact, Colonel Ferguson and his men refer to “Rome” as the nation they serve. Continue reading
GULLIVAR JONES ON MARS (1905) – Written by Edwin L Arnold. In Part One of this review I explored this novel’s alternate titles and its cult reputation, plus the controversy which used to rage over whether or not Edgar Rice Burroughs may have read this work and gained inspiration for certain elements of his John Carter of Mars series. I also dealt with the end of that controversy when it became better known that BOTH Arnold and Burroughs may have been inspired by Gustavus Pope’s 1894 novel Journey to Mars.
Here in Part Two is the review proper, including revisions I would have made to Edwin Arnold’s incredibly flawed story.
Gullivar Jones on Mars starts out in the late 1860s or early 1870s with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Gullivar Jones, a veteran of the Union forces in the Civil War, in New York City on shore leave. He comes into possession of a Turkish rug with unexplained mystical powers. While standing on the unrolled rug he wishes he was on Mars and the flying carpet transports him there. (?)
REVISION: I would keep all of Gullivar Jones’ background info the same, but instead of the Turkish rug I would have him be one of many New Yorkers drawn to a strange spacecraft which lands near the docks. The daring Jones would climb into the remote-controlled vessel, which would trap him inside, sedate him with gas and then fly off back to Mars. Continue reading
GULLIVAR JONES ON MARS (1905) – Written by Edwin L Arnold, this novel was originally published under the title Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation. Years later, with the spelling of the lead character’s first name altered, it was published as Gulliver of Mars. Over the years it was revived under a variety of titles. I’m using the title that I prefer – Gullivar Jones On Mars.
This will be a simultaneous review and a running tally of the revisions I would have made to the story. This very oddly written novel BEGS to be rewritten because of the long line of self-defeating creative choices that Edwin L Arnold made throughout the tale.
If Arnold had written this story decades later it could have been said that he was intentionally subverting the tropes of heroic sword & science epics. Unfortunately, this novel instead seems to be the victim of ineptitude on the author’s part.
Like when you’re watching a bad movie, a reader’s jaw drops at the way Arnold never failed to let a brilliant concept die on the vine, or the way he repeatedly sets up potentially action-packed or highly dramatic story developments only to let them culminate in unsatisfying cul de sacs or peter out into lame anticlimax. There’s almost a perverse genius to the way that the narrative constantly works against itself. Continue reading