February 27, 2015
February 25, 2015

The World Is Burning Down (Captain Power: New Order, Part 2: The Land Shall Burn)

Captain Power Episode 20Previously on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Cap and company enacted a desperate reenactment of the Death Star Trench Run sequence from Star Wars in order to stop Lord Dread’s Icarus satellite from digitizing the eastern seaboard. With the crashing Icarus on a collision course for Volcania, Power and his team race to the very stronghold of their enemy to stop Lord Dread from touching off a deadly plasma storm.

It is March 13, 1988. Last Friday, the pound note ceased to be legal tender in the UK, enraging Adam Ant (Which is, at least, safer than enraging Adam Adamant, who will straight-up murder you for it). Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Cybil Shepherd and Accused Rapist Bill Cosby win the 14th People’s Choice Awards. Gallaudet University elects its first deaf president, which you’d think would have happened a lot sooner, but people kinda suck. In the coming week, Eugene Marino will become the first African American Catholic archbishop. He will resign two years later amid allegations of sexual misconduct (Thankfully, not the kind you usually associate with Catholic priests; an apparently consensual relationship with an adult).

We have finally entered the glorious two-week reign of Rick Astley, and it is a crying shame that the words to “Never Gonna Give You Up” don’t work well for this post’s title. Little else changes on the Billboard top ten, except that Debbie Gibson is back at number 8 with “Out of the Blue”. 14 Going On 30 concludes. This week’s MacGyver is “The Spoilers”, which I won’t ruin for you. Star Trek The Next Generation is back with “Coming of Age”. It’s a thematically important story which I remember hardly anything about other than the plot having a good chunk of vagueness in it, since the A-plot is “The Enterprise is being investigated on suspicion of there being ‘something wrong’, and we never get told what or why or anything really.”  This is because it’s actually foreshadowing for the season pre-finale, and the thing they’re looking for is going to turn out to be those neck-gill bug things. But it’s 1988, and “We’ll drop some hints back in March then not mention anything about it until May,” is not the standard mode of TV storytelling, so I never really felt like it gelled. Anyway, obligatory linklove to Vaka Rangi.

Much like this article, part two of “New Order” begins after a recap that goes on way too long. When we left Volcania last week, Icarus was expected to smack into the side of it in about twenty minutes. Now, that might sound to you like a really clever set-up for an episode that takes place in real time, with the crashing Icarus acting as a ticking clock throughout the episode. That’s because you live in the impossibly far-off world of 2015; we’re still a dozen years away from 24. Heck, we’re still three years away from the real-time episode of Seinfeld. As far as I know, the only real-time TV episode to have aired at this point in history was an episode of M*A*S*H back in ’79, and the real-time there is more than made up for by the fact that the series as a whole ran in approximately 1/3 time. No, we rejoin the story like 15 minutes after the end of part one, with Lord Dread desperately rousing Soaron to come defend Volcania.

Captain Power Episode 20: Soaron RegeneratesSoaron, you may recall, got blowed up right good last episode, and has to grow his leg and wing back before he can set off. There’s some really good detail shots of Soaron writhing on the ground, flexing his injured leg, and standing up. Too bad it’s completely undermined by just how godawful the actual regeneration effect is. I mean seriously, if Soaron were a suit actor, this would look like it was done on a greenscreen by pulling a green blanket over his leg. Soaron assures Dread that he can save Volcania. Soaron flies back to Detroit, interposes himself between Icarus and Volcania, and starts shooting. I note here, just to remind you, that Captain Power had previously refused to involve the rest of the resistance on the grounds that only his team, with their access to the jump gate network, could possibly move quickly enough to strike both Icarus control and also Volcania in the time allowed. Soaron has just covered the same distance faster, despite the fact that he started out down a leg and a wing.

Captain Power Episode 20: SoaronIcarus proves too big a target for Soaron to destroy, so he resorts to just shouting at it until it hits him, smashing him to pieces and leaving Dread and Overmind uncertain if he’ll even be able to regenerate at all. I’m of two minds on this scene. Soaron is completely out of the narrative for the rest of the episode, which I’m fine with, since the plot is already getting to be kind of a clusterfrak. Soaron’s last stand here is, I think, a well-made scene. The whole idea that, despite knowing that it’s hopeless, Soaron’s pride wouldn’t allow him to back down, and he actually thinks that just hovering there shouting “I AM SOARON!” at a giant burning space station might actually work is kind of cute. But I can’t help also feel that it’s really more of a Blastarr thing to do than a Soaron thing to do. It’s just so “Hulk Smash”.

Captain Power Episode 20: Volcania

At any rate, a few seconds later, Icarus smashes into the side of Volcania in an explosion so big that some of it appears to have actually happened, with model shots and everything rather than just compositing in the same fireball they use in the opening credits. Captain Power and his team take that as their cue to teleport in, which is a bit odd if you accept the statement back in “A Summoning of Thunder” about the network only having five exit nodes, but whatever. While they land the jumpship in what’s probably the best model shot of the jumpship all season, Dread recovers in his throne room and assesses the damage.

Captain Power Episode 20: Jumpship

Overmind reports extensive damage, but says that Prometheus can still go off as scheduled. Then Overmind says its best line of the series, because it echo’s Taggart’s words from the end of “A Summoning of Thunder, Part 2” he woke up as Dread: “I hurt.”  Dread orders Blastarr to take care of Captain Power, using the same kind of florid, “He is here, Blastarr, the one who has injured The Machine, the one who defies me again and again”-type nonsense that he’s supposed to have elevated himself above what with the whole Perfection of the Machine thing.

Everyone Powers On in the Jumpship. Hawk’s suit reminds him that he’s only got a fifteen percent charge on his batteries after last episode’s Soaron fight. Given that Scout, Cap and Tank fought their way through the Icarus base last time, it’s strange that they don’t need a recharge too. I know that Hawk’s condition is supposed to be related to his crash during the Soaron fight, but looking back over the series, there’s a huge number of times that the power suits have quite clearly only had enough charge for about five minutes of fighting. Captain Power notices Hawk’s reaction to the announcement, though I assume he can’t hear it himself, because Hawk proceeds to lie to him about it, claiming to be more than half-charged. After cloaking the Jumpship, Cap and company start fighting their way toward the throne room, which is for some reason the only place Scout can access the Prometheus controls.

Captain Power Episode 20 New OrderThey fight their way through a room and a half before Hawk’s batteries go flat after getting shot in the back by a Bling Nazi, and Cap instantly caves on his whole, “We push on no matter what and we’re totally leaving anyone behind who can’t keep up” by ordering Tank to carry him back to the Jumpship. You know, after going to the trouble of having him lie to his commander, you’d think Hawk’s impending suit failure would be more of a big deal, maybe have it fail at a time that really screws them, or putting him in a position where he needs to fly to escape. As it is, though, it’s just an excuse to get Peter MacNeill and Sven Ole-Thorssen out of the story, which, in turn, is because there’s not really enough plot to carry all five of them, and the sets are going to get a lot smaller, so the action choreography is better with just the three of them.

Captain Power Episode 20: Blastarr

Blastarr shows up and chases them into archive footage of Captain Power Episode 20: New Orderthat hallway with the sex toys on the ceiling from way back in “Wardogs“. When it widens out a bit, they toss their belts at him, which explode. This sets Blastarr on fire, but does not otherwise harm him. Their only reprieve comes when he has to stop for like 30 seconds to fold out his roller skates, buying Pilot enough time to unlock the next door with her sonic dildoCaptain Power Episode 20: Sonic Probe (It turns out that the thingy is officially called a “Proton Spanner”. In her commentary tracks, Jessica Steen seems oddly proud of it). Having tired of Blastarr’s crap, they bait him onto an exposed power cable, which electrocutes the BioDread. And then he explodes. Upstairs, Overmind reports that Blastarr, like Soaron, has uncertain chances of recovery.

Captain Power Episode 20: Blastarr

When Captain Power arrives at the throne room, he finds Dread’s throne occupied by a hologram: the real Lord Dread is exploiting Television Combat Strategy by standing directly in Cap’s line of sight, but outside the frame of the camera, thus rendering him invisible. Dread stuns Scout and Pilot, but Cap is able to disarm him by shooting him in the hand. Captain Power Episode 20: LakkiJust as Power is about to totally respect his father’s wishes about never taking human life, Lakki inexplicably does something useful and shoots Cap’s gun.

Disarmed, hero and villain are forced to resort to fighting with their totally-not-lightsabersneworder213. The fight is so distracting that Dread doesn’t notice Scout wake up and switch Volcania over to manual. This enrages Dread so much that he whacks Captain Power in the crotch with his stick hard enough to de-morph him, and then runs away. Scout manages to blow up the Prometheus power station, which explodes in a model shot that’s way more detailed than I’d ever have expected from this show.

Captain Power Episode 20

Before our heroes can do anything else with their complete unfettered access to Volcania’s main systems, Overmind starts trying to override their control. Rather than shooting the stupid Sargon ball that’s just sitting there exposed on the other side of the room, Captain Power and his friends decide to leg it. Their escape is presumably really boring, because we just cut to the Jumpship taking off and leaving unopposed, and they don’t even bother carving the phoenix emblem in the side of the place. Captain Power Episode 20: Hawk and ScoutInside, Scout bandages Hawk’s arm, because I guess Tank was happy enough to just let him sit there bleeding the past twenty minutes.

We end on Cap doing his Captain’s Log thing, declaring this to be their first major success in the war against Dread. Which is kind of disappointing, really. You may be starting to get the impression that I’m running out of patience with Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. We peaked, I think, right around the middle of the series. But now, just when it’s absolutely critical for the show to really nail it, they revert back to my complaints of the early part of the series: this two-parter is pretty much a forty minute action sequence. And it’s not even particularly good action. At least in “Freedom One”, the over-long action sequence was dynamic and well-composed. In these past two episodes, it’s just kind of a mess. Soaron and Blastarr alternate from scene to scene between being nigh invulnerable and being literally blown to bits. Hawk lies to Cap about how badly off he is, is injured in battle, and nothing comes of it. Hawk being injured is the closest thing this plot has to an actual complication in it, and it amounts to nothing.

Look at the basic outline of this episode: with the last two steps of Project New Order conveniently scheduled for two hours after we find out about them, Captain Power comes up with an audacious and nigh-suicidal plan to stop them… And they do it. Easily. We’re told that this is dangerous, that it’s borderline insanity to assault Volcania directly. But if anything, they have less trouble waltzing into Lord Dread’s throne room and reprogramming Prometheus than they did with the Icarus trench run. At no point does this episode have the tension even of, say, “Wardogs”. Cap and company basically dominate from the first scene onward. And if, as Cap’s log says, this is their first major victory against Dread, what the hell have they been doing for fifteen years? Everything is just far too easy. And two episodes in a row end with “As the countdown reaches zero, Scout reprograms a computer to make a model explode.” This isn’t good storytelling.

Credit where it’s due and all: the model work in these episodes is fantastic. The Prometheus plasma station, the Icarus satellite, the Death Star Trench (itself. The compositing of the Jumpship and Skybikes is wretched), and Volcania itself are all detailed and lovely. But nothing else in the episode justifies the time and expense that went into them. I’ve kept saying all season that the half-hour format is a problem for a show this action-heavy, and that two-parters ought to give them some breathing room. And here they go proving me wrong: “New Order” as a two-parter is even more terse and action-heavy than the single-parters. It’s barely a two-parter at all, really; each half has a distinct beginning, middle and end that stands on its own. Taken as two separate episodes, though, “The Sky Shall Swallow Them” and “The Land Shall Burn” suffer from (a) not being especially good action-heavy episodes, and (b) being essentially the same exact story twice in a row.

Captain Power Episode 20: Soaron

This show had better up its game next time. It’s running out of chances.

February 18, 2015

Light the Sky and Hold on Tight (Captain Power: New Order, Part 1: The Sky Shall Swallow Them)

Captain Power Episode 19It is the sixth of March, 1988. In Gibraltar, Operation Flavius concludes when the British SAS shoot three IRA members to prevent a bombing. The outcome is highly controversial, as witness accounts suggest that the suspects were shot after surrendering, though the SAS maintained that it looked like one of them might have been reaching for a remote detonator or wearing a hoodie or something. In the coming week, George H.W. Bush will shore up his standing for the bid to be Reagan’s successor by rousting Bob Dole on Super Tuesday while the Democrats will utterly fail in their bid to get their own candidate picked out early so they could get on with the business of losing the general election.

George Michael hangs on to the top of the charts for one more week, but Rick Astley’s about to roll up over him. David Lee Roth, Richard Marx, Michael Jackson and Cher break into the top ten. The Wonderful World of Disney airs the first part of 14 Going On 30, which is pretty much exactly what you think it is: Big crossed with 13 Going On 30, and I only bring it up because Daphne Ashbrook is in it, and because a lot of people think that its ending (She turns herself 14 so she can keep dating the hero after he returns to his original age. Which is really freaking creepy when you think about it) is actually a deleted scene from Big. Supercarrier and In the Heat of the Night premier. Probe premiers tomorrow, right after that MacGyver with the woman who kills the dog.

Star Trek the Next Generation is still on a break as Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future rolls into its final four episodes with the first part of “New Order”. And unfortunately, this one is kind of a Curate’s Egg (Once upon a time, a curate was invited to have breakfast at the Bishop’s house. The Bishop looks at the curate’s plate and observes that he’s been served a rotten egg. The curate, wanting to be gracious to his host says, “Oh, no, parts of it are quite good.”). This episode — this pair of episodes, really, are just about the most action-heavy in the series. And it’s not even good action. The plot progression is kind of sloppy, the sense of time and space is more warped than usual, and there’s an awful lot of stock footage. There are some nice moments, but on the whole, there’s a real feeling of them suddenly realizing that there were only four episodes left and still two phases of Project Macguffin to deal with. They also appear to have realized that they’re running out of show and still haven’t given Maurice Dean Wint much of anything to do all season, so he’s got a slightly larger role here — they actually seem to have deliberately pushed Peter MacNeill to the sidelines for a lot of the story to make room.

Captain Power Episode 19 - Maurice Dean Wint as ScoutWe start out with Captain Power and Scout at a clandestine rendezvous with Locke, a “data theif” played by Paul Humphries, the son of an accomplished Canadian TV producer, in one of a handful of roles he played before deciding to go into music instead, presumably because he realized that both James Spader and Michael Shanks are both better James Spaders than he isPaul Humphries in Captain Power. He’s got exclusive data on the Icarus phase of Project New Order that he’s looking to sell. He gives Scout a preview of the content on his 3.25″ floppy using a Virtual Boy, and Scout confirms that it’s genuine. Somehow. Before they can set a price, however, they hear the approaching sounds of Soaron. Soaron’s dialogue suggests that he’s just sort of randomly happened into the area looking for humans to digitize.

Given the importance of the data they’re buying and the need for secrecy, the obvious thing to do is to lay low and hope he goes away. So of course Cap and Scout immediately Power On and start shooting. Lord Dread, as always, feels the need to micromanage, and dispatches Blastarr to help. While Cap tangles with Soaron, Blastarr corners Locke, who tries to shoot him. I mean actually shoot him. Paul Humphries in Captain PowerWith a gun. That shoots bullets. I’m having a hard time conveying the weirdness of that. I think this is the only time in the series we see a regular gun. Fortunately, for the safety of their time slot and the rendering farm that would have to work out how to make the CGI model interact with a squib,  Locke misses by a mile. Blastarr gloats and returns fire, and… Also misses by a mile.

Captain Power disables Soaron by blowing up a building, or something. It’s hard to tell; it’s the usual way of filming Soaron fight scenes, cutting back and forth between contextless shots of Cap and Soaron each off-screen. The camera stays close-in, which gives us a good look at Soaron’s detailing, but makes it basically impossible to derive any sense of what the hell is going on. There’s very little dialogue to clarify, beyond something to the effect of “Ha! Gotcha!” right before Cap blows something up, which I think is meant to indicate that he’d used a feint to lure Soaron into an enclosed area to shoot him. Captain Power catches up with Blastarr just as he’s about to dispatch Locke (Or rather, while Blastarr has been standing around for about ten seconds with Locke cornered and his gun-fingers aimed, patiently waiting for Cap to show up and shoot him) and disables him momentarily, triggering that same old short loop of the Ground Guardian falling to his knees that they’ve used in about two thirds of his appearances. Blastarr’s resilience varies wildly from scene to scene and episode to episode. Like I said before, you could probably explain this as him needing conscious effort to avoid injury, resulting in his being particularly weak against sucker-punches.

Locke, despite protesting about his payment, agrees to retreat with Scout and Cap on a hoverbike… And then just drops out of the story. We’ll be seeing him again, but not for a while. We cut immediately back to the Power Base, where Mentor and Captain Power explain what they’ve learned. Icarus and Prometheus are to follow in rapid succession. Captain Power Episode 19Icarus refers to a gigantic space-based digitizer, capable of vacuuming up the entire human population of the planet, starting, because now is as good a time as any to start caring about geography, with the east coast of the US two hours from now.

Hawk questions the fact that Dread has somehow launched a giant satellite without them noticing. And here’s where things start to get awkward: presumably, Dread launched it from one of his many other facilities around the world which Captain Power and company know nothing about and haven’t been paying attention to.

LOLWHUT? No, just no. If Lord Dread has facilities all over the planet, why has this never come up? Why were Styx and Charon both done entirely in the US, where the one guy who stands a chance of stopping him lives? For that matter why doesn’t Captain Power pay attention to the rest of the planet? This sounds like a recipe for someone’s last words being, “Gee, Probably should have checked to see if he had a huge backup army in Brazil.” What the hell? There isn’t much of anything in this show that makes sense unless you start from the assumption that either Power and Dread are both operating globally or that the rest of the world has been somehow placed “out of bounds” by some kind of catastrophe.

To prevent us from thinking too long about that, though, Mentor adds that the Prometheus program is scheduled to go into effect immediately after Icarus: this one is the use of “plasma stations” to ignite a firestorm that will sterilize the eastern seaboard to clean up anyone who evades the digitizer. Captain Power sends the others off to warn Freedom Two and the East Coast Resistance (I have all their albums) while he thinks of a plan. It’s rare to see Cap personally and explicitly take on the task of strategy. I don’t particularly like it, given my personal take on the character, but I can’t say that it goes against the Word of God on his tactical abilities.

While he strategizes, we jump back to Volcania just long enough for Dread and Lakki to passive-aggressive at each other, mostly Dread insisting that it’s too late for Captain Power to do anything about Icarus and Lakki reminding him that Captain Power is two for two on disrupting phases of Project New Order so far.

Back at the Power Base, Cap has devised a bold plan to save the world. And when I say “bold”, I don’t mean “A plan which is daring in its difficulty and stakes with the odds against them;” I mean “I can’t believe they had the gall to be this overt about ripping off Star Wars.” Because his plan is to reenact the Death Star Trench Run in the jumpship.  And not subtly at all. The Icarus control station is located at the end of a long trench, and he orders Pilot to fly down the trench in the jumpship and blow it open with a “proton missile”. Everyone is so relieved that they can finally be open about the fact that they can finally be open and honest about ripping off Star Wars that they barely bat an eyelash when Captain Power adds that the second part of his plan is for them to go attack Volcania directly to disable Prometheus. Maurice Dean Wint in Captain PowerThis new spirit of liberation gives Tank the courage to directly reference Star Trek: “What are ve vaiting for? Let’s go boldly where nomen has gahn before.” Scout adds, “Beam me up, Scotty.” (Side note: It’s 2147. That show is two hundred years old. And besides, the only time anyone actually says “Beam me up, Scotty,” is in Star Trek IV).  If you read my essay on “And Study War No More“, you might remember that I proposed the somewhat tongue-in-cheek thesis that even as Star Trek the Next Generation was spooling up, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was in its very modest way trying to stake out its own claim as a legitimate successor to the cultural role that the original Trek had held. But I didn’t really expect them to come right out and say it. It seems like a bit of a dangerous proposition to reference a much more popular competing science fiction franchise in the middle of your own floundering science fiction franchise.

There’s some cutting back and forth to Volcania mostly to break up the time skips, with the strange effect that it appears Captain Power spent an hour and a half of their two hours coming up with his plan, and the next fifteen minutes letting Pilot practice on a simulator. With fifteen minutes to go, they board the jumpship and set out. They’ll be going in unassisted, since, according to Cap, the rest of the resistance couldn’t possibly make it to both targets in time. Because teleportation. So presumably, Cypher, Sands, Blaise and Evangier are just, like, sitting around with their thumbs up their butts while the world gets ready to literally burn around them, because Cap and Company are the only people allowed to actually accomplish anything in this show. En route, they’re attacked by “BioDread forces”, and they speculate it may be Soaron. Given that Soaron is the only thing we’ve ever seen fly other than Dread himself that one time, it’s a safe bet.

Hawk is dispatched to keep Soaron out of the way, and it’s kind of disappointing; the battle appears to be composed entirely of stock footage from earlier in the season. The only thing really noteworthy is that you can see Soaron’s tail swishing behind him at one point. The battle proceeds in the usual way, Hawk firing his nerf darts and Soaron’s laser beams exploding against the empty sky behind Hawk until he eventually gets in a good shot that knocks Hawk out of the air. Soaron’s in “Red Baron” mode for this one, coming close to complimenting Hawk for his prowess, but declaring the day his as he slowly lines up his kill-shot. As per usual, the shocking reveal is that Hawk is less badly hurt than it seemed, and he stands up and hits Soaron point-blank with a nerf dart to the chest, which blows off one leg and wing. They’re really getting brutal with this.

Captain Power Episode 19

The trench run is literally the exact same footage as the trench run from the end credits. I mean, okay, it’s not like I expected them to film a separate sequence for it, but it’s just so blatant. The jumpship and hoverbikes are matted in kind of crudely, and the interactivity effects have been replaced with a glowing ball that chases them part of the way. They occasionally show a reverse-angle on the jumpship, which is nice, but the background of the trench looks like it’s probably just the same end credits loop played backwards. Thanks to a little peck on the cheek Tim Dunigan and Jessica Steen in Captain Power Captain Power gives her, “for luck” (and also because we’ve got a romance subplot to shoehorn in here), Captain Power Episode 19despite getting consistently blown up about ten seconds into the run on the simulator, Pilot manages to survive the, I don’t know, it feels like about six hours (Seriously, the sequence is really tedious) to launch a photon  torpedo shoot a blue strobe beam fire the proton missile at the unshielded thermal exhaust port door, blowing it up.

Lord Dread’s countdown informs us that only seconds remain as Cap, Scout and Tank shoot their way through the installation. It’s a perfectly good fight scene, but it doesn’t really add anything we haven’t seen a dozen times by now. In fact, the whole thing is basically identical to the fight at the Styx base back in “And Madness Shall Reign“. The timing is sloppy. The countdown hits zero just as… Scout sticks a floppy disk in a computer. And then he types something. And then he announces that the Icarus satellite is turning. Was the countdown just a suggestion? At any rate, Scout’s interference causes an explosion on the satellite and it falls out of orbit. Here, we get a slightly weird twist — one moment that actually managed to impress me. We cut immediately back to Volcania where Overmind announces that the Icarus platform isn’t just going to fall to Earth at random: it’s on course to crash straight into Volcania.

That’s a clever part of Captain Power’s strategy which they deliberately withheld from us earlier, but I’m not really sure they earn it. I’m reasonably sure that what they meant to indicate is that Cap’s plan was not merely to destroy Icarus, but to engineer its descent specifically to turn it into a kinetic orbital bombardment against Volcania. But because they withheld this information for dramatic effect, it’s vague enough that you could easily think this is just a deus ex machina, a happy accident that Icarus’s reentry would take it to Volcania. The only hint at all that this is intentional is one line from Scout as he orders Icarus to turn, and you could easily miss it over the noise of the rest of the scene. What we really needed here is to stretch out the middle of act two, show Cap struggling to come up with a plan, and outright saying that there isn’t enough time to hit both targets. They could still withhold the exact plan, but we should have seen Cap’s “Eureka” moment when something gives him the inspiration for the plan. You know what this would be a good time for? A flashback. Bring back Dylan Neal and let Bruce Gray out of his Zordon Tube. Maybe show them playing some kind of sci-fi version of curling, where Daddy Power bests his son by caroming a shot off of one of Young Johnny’s stones so he could give a little speech about turning your adversary’s strengths back against him. But no, we needed that screen-time to squeeze in some more stock footage fight scenes.

Captain Power Episode 19

February 11, 2015

Deep Ice: Guns, Tanks, Bombs, They’re Like Toys Against Them! (Joe Pearson’s War of the Worlds: Goliath)

War of the Worlds: GoliathI’ll Explain Later…

Previously, on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging:

In a certain sense, it’s because the documentary is so strong that it leaves me just a bit unsatisfied. Because, frankly, I can look up how World War I went.  “A Brief History of World War I Only With Martians Instead of Germans,” is merely clever; I find myself much more fascinated by the question, “How does the rest of the twentieth century go if we get Alien Tech in 1918?”

Unfortunately, that’s not a question that particularly interests The Great Martian War. Fortunately, I’ve got a bunch of adaptations left to go…

It is June 28, 1914. Yesterday, boxer Jack Johnson won by decision after 20 rounds with Frank Moran in Paris, retaining the World Heavyweight title. He’d eventually lose it to Jess Willard by knockout in Havana the following year. Manchester, NH is rebuilding after a fire downtown. The 23-part serial The Million Dollar Mystery starring Florence La Badie has recently opened in theaters, as has Cecil B. DeMille’s The Only Son, and an adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first Tarzan novel, Tarzan of the Apes has just been published, as has Baum’s Tik-Tok of Oz. Speaker of the House Champ Clark vows to vote in favor of women’s suffrage when it’s put to vote in Missouri. The referendum will fail in November, amid fears that female voters will push for prohibition, based on the fact that this is pretty much exactly what happens. Missouri’s legislature will grant women the vote late in 1919, which won’t make a lick of difference because the 20th amendment will give it to them anyway before the next election. A time-traveler from the future (I assume, since the idea of both advertorials and anti-vaxxers being native to the 1910s makes me sad) posts an advertorial in the New York Tribune claiming that vaccination is more dangerous than smallpox and tetanus. Teddy Roosevelt refuses to follow his doctor’s advice and give up politics for four months’ bed-rest to treat his malaria, though he’ll relent the next day and agree to take a day off. The Aquitania, Ruritania and Lusitania are all departing New York in the next month on round-the-world trips starting at $474.83.

In Sarajevo, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is assassinated by Yugoslav Nationalist Gavrilo Princip. Through a series of confusing, ill-conceived and boring mutual defense pacts, this leads to Germany invading France.

The United States, of course, remains neutral, since they’re far more concerned with preparing for the immanent return of invaders from Mars.

Some time in the first quarter of 2012, I managed to get the script that automagically makes newly released movie trailers appear in my mythtv working, and it dutifully informed me that there was an animated film coming out that I probably wouldn’t be interested in — some kind of dieselpunk alternate-universe war film that looked like it was pretty much World War I with mecha. I like me some giant robots, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not a huge fan or war films per se. Or dieselpunk. I’d probably have skipped this one, but then it showed the title. War of the Worlds: Goliath.

So I guess I’m in. Goliath is a 2012 animated film produced and directed by Joe Pearson (It’s kinda weird how the name ‘Pearson’ keeps coming up in reference to War of the Worlds…), set during World War I in a world where the events of the HG Wells novel took place in 1899. There’s an obvious parallel to The Great Martian War, but here, World War I itself happens the historical way (at first), with the alien invasion as backstory. War of the Worlds: Goliath, therefore is very much the thing I said I’d have preferred to see. Sorta.

Goliath is also, oddly enough, a bit of a reunion for the cast of Highlander the Series: the voice cast includes Jim Byrnes (Joe Dawson), Elizabeth Gracen (Amanda), Peter Wingfield (Methos) and Adrian Paul (Duncan MacLeod) remember that name. For that matter, screenwriter David Abramowitz was the supervising producer for Highlander the Series and its spin-off Highlander: The Raven. Joe Pearson, whose work has been entirely in animation, isn’t connected to the Highlander TV series directly, but he did work with Abramowitz on the 2007 anime Highlander:The Search for Vengeance.

We’re treated to a sepia-colored montage of life in 1899 intercut with Martian spaceships approaching the Earth as Luka Kuncevic gives us an arrangement of Jeff Wayne’sForever Autumn” (Best known for its cover by Justin Hayward for Wayne’s musical adaptation of War of the Worlds, which we’ll talk about eventually) with so much autotuning it sounds like a cyberman is singing it. I mean, it’s clearly intentional; for some reason Kuncevic thought that sounding like a mid-70s robot would make a 1969 Lego jingle sound more apropos to the turn of the century. A longer version plays over the end credits, and at least the electric guitar part is nice.

Post-credits, we open in Leeds, in 1899, where young Eric Wells (Because it’s contractually required for 2 out of 3 War of the Worlds adaptations to name a character after HG Wells) gets his parents killed by panicking in the face of a Martian tripod rather than running for cover. I know that’s putting it bluntly, but this movie is not really big on subtlety. And besides, I have seen exactly this setup about a hundred million times. War of the Worlds: GoliathFuture-hero is confronted by a powerful enemy as a child, panics, dads rushes back to save him and is killed. This haunts the kid his entire life and will be the specter of self-doubt he must overcome in order to unlock his full potential and avenge his parents when the villains return. It’s the backstory for Wonder-Red in The Wonderful 101. It’s the backstory for Simba in The Lion King. It’s the backstory for Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. It’s the backstory for Samus Aran in Metroid. Hell, it’s the backstory for the Goddamned Batman. It is even the backstory for Captain Power. I’m not saying it’s a bad trope per se, but the depths of it are pretty well plumbed out by now, especially if you’re not going to give us any real payoff for it. Also, the deaths are needlessly gruesome, showing their flesh burn away and their skeletons and viscera twist as they are reduced to ash. That’s going to be a recurring motif; most battles have at least one money shot of someone getting vaporized but good.

War of the Worlds: Goliath 1899 TripodThe 1899 tripod looks to have taken some inspiration from Henrique Alves Corrêa’s illustrationsWar of the Worlds - Correra illustration for the 1906 French edition of the novel. The general shape is somewhat similar to a water tower, with a barrel-shaped body and wide-brimmed roof on long, stilt-like legs. There’s two large windows in the front, positioned like eyes. A cylindrical extension projects forward just below the main body, which you’d think was the heat ray, but the heat-ray is a separate unit, slung lower, in a position that kind of makes it look like the tripod’s naughty bits. Actually, the curve of the roof strongly resembles a Brodie Helmet, and when combined with the large window-eyes and the cylindrical extension, the combined effect is to make the tripod’s main body look uncannily like the head of a World War I soldier, kitted out for the trenches in helmet and gas mask. My assumption is that this is intentional given the premise, but there’s some things later on that make that seem weird. The tripod, as would be expected, conveniently drops dead before it can fire its green heat ray a third time and kill our nominal protagonist before the story even gets started.

The animation in Goliath is interesting. Like I said back in Gandahar, I’m no expert on animation. Goliath was animated in Malaysia, which has a pretty robust animation industry, but not one I have any other experience with. The thing it looks the most like is the 1990s DCAU stuff — the animated Batman and Superman in particular. Everyone’s got these ridiculous comic-book proportions with gigantic chests, Lenoesque chins and small waists. But there’s also elements that remind me a lot of Aeon Flux: anything gory, like the deaths of Eric’s parents, but there’s also something about the character of Jennifer Carter that reminds me a lot of Peter Chung’s work. The film is 3D computer animated, and the cel shading here is first rate; I’d at first assumed it was a hybrid animation style, using CGI for the mecha and traditional animation for people.The animation is absolutely fantastic. I won’t call it “beautiful”, though, because an awful lot of it is very deliberately ugly.

War of the Worlds: Goliath

There’s also a whole lot of detail in the backgrounds, such as the New York City of 1914, where our story resumes. One obvious downside to setting a story in New York City in 1914 is that it doesn’t actually look that much like New York City: you’re missing all that fantastic Gothic Revival and Art Deco stuff. Pretty much the only things you’ll see in Goliath‘s New York that really shouts “New York” are the Flatiron building and something I’m not going to mention yet for dramatic effect. Instead of the familiar skyscrapers of modern New York, the city is instead decorated with numerous statues memorializing the Martian invasion, which all tend to depict humanity as having a greater hand in the defeat than it did, soldiers with heavy arms standing astride felled tripods or skewering squid-like Martians. New York is an exceedingly smoky place. For that matter, just about everything in this movie belches huge amounts of diesel exhaust, which is presumably historically accurate, but is strangely at odds with the technological motif.

War of the Worlds: Goliath - Roosevelt, Tesla, KushnirovEric Wells, now grown into a barrel-chested adult, rides a suspension train that runs down Fifth Avenue to the headquarters of ARES, Earth’s unrealistically ethnically diverse “Allied Resistance Earth Squadron”. ARES is run by Secretary of War Teddy Roosevelt, Russian General Sergei Kushnirov (Who is not a real person, but is played by Rob Middleton, who hasn’t been in anything since the ’80s, but does have one credit I recognized: he played the monster that lived in Dorian’s basement in the first episode of the last season of Blake’s 7), and Nikola Tesla. It’s made up of the best and brightest of the world’s various armies, putting aside things like racism, sexism, or the fact that the world is full of countries which all hate each other. The men and women of ARES put all that nationalism aside to work together in the name of their common humanity. Except for the Germans, who are kind of assholes. Well, mostly. Ace pilot Manfred von Richtofen seems like a mensch, even if he did make a point of showing off by buzzing the train earlier.

Roosevelt has some troubling news for ARES: Mars is once again in opposition, and Tesla believes he’s detected evidence that the Martians are launching a renewed attack. To make matters worse, half of ARES’ soldiers have been recalled to Europe in anticipation of a war between the great powers over there.

Yes. World War I is still gearing up to happen over in Europe. Now, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve defended works of science fiction for pulling the whole “Aliens invade in the ’70s and yet the ’90s are superficially identical to the ones the viewer lived through,” thing. There’s a lot of people who take issue with the idea that, post-alien-invasion, humanity would get back to their lives rather than instantly evolving into spangly space-clothes wearing Science Fiction Characters, and I don’t think that it necessarily follows that the absolute knowledge of the existence of hostile extraterrestrials would have a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of most people, for the same reason that the discovery that the Earth goes ’round the sun didn’t. During the invasion, yeah, sure, things are very different. But once the Martians are finished dying, the cows still got to be milked and the lawn’s still got to be mowed, and there’s no per se reason — provided that the invasion is done-in-one and there isn’t continuing contact with the aliens — that it wouldn’t be handled exactly the same way as every other kind of large-scale disaster, like an earthquake or a hurricane, that comes out of nowhere, shakes things up, then leaves.

But this still feels wrong. Not that Europe wouldn’t still be itching to get its war on — Europe had been itching to get its war on pretty much continuously for centuries, and it seems hopelessly optimistic to me to assume that Kaiser Wilhelm and Franz Joseph and George V and Raymond Poincaré would all set aside the fact that their countries all hated each other just because there were Martians now. No, that bit I’m okay with — it even sort of works to have this sense that ARES was assembled immediately after the war out of a sudden feeling of a common brotherhood of man and the need for mutual defense, but after a few years, the old rivalries and hatreds resurfaced. Rather, it seems awfully forced that, after the destruction of much of the world’s military and a tenth of its population (Literal decimation!), everyone would be ready in fifteen years. We’ve already seen this is a different world than the real 1914; Eric here is the commander of an ARES tripod, built by Tesla based on his studies of alien tech. Humanity has heat rays and giant mecha. And you’re telling me that Europe had time to put their shattered cities back together and raise a new generation of soldiers to replace the ones lost in the Martian war and build new battle fleets using an entirely new kind of technology (Because seriously, if heat ray-equipped giant mechs are a thing that exists, are you seriously going to start a war without some of your own?), and this didn’t push everyone’s schedule back a few years?

War of the Worlds: Goliath TripodGeneral Kushnirov believes that the key to being prepared for the Martians’ return lies in their new “Achilles-Class” Tripod. Because when you’re building what is, essentially, a tank complicated by the fact that instead of rolling on treads, it has to accomplish the much more difficult feat of walking on legs without falling, you naturally assume it’s a good idea to name it after a guy who is famous for being killed by injuring his ankle. It’s one of the laws of military naming symbolism, like how you have to call your high-altitude craft “Icarus” or your indestructible spaceship “Titanic 2″, or your physics-defying ship “The SS. Fuck you, Newton”.

Having been established as the main character, command of the first Achilles-class Tripod off the line, dubbed “Goliath”, naturally goes to Eric, on account of his performance in simulations and also because his team meets Haim Saban’s requirements for diversity among a five-man special forces team. The British Wells is accompanied by an American Lieutenant, Jennifer Carter, because the US has female combat troops in 1914 but this complete social upheaval didn’t deter World War I from happening (Remember, in the real world, women in the US don’t have the vote yet); Sergeant Abraham Douglas from Canada, because Canada has desegregated their armed forces by 1914 but this complete social upheaval didn’t deter World War I from happening; Lieutenant Raja Iskandar from British Malaya (Present-day Malaysia, where, as noted, the film was made); and Corporal Patrick O’Brien from Ireland. Wells, of course, is an enlightened Englishman who has no problem serving with a woman, an Irishman, a black guy and a southeast Asian (I mean, I guess it helps that the white British guy is the one who’s in charge), and neither does anyone else. Except the Germans, who are kind of jerks.

War of the Worlds: Goliath Crew

Everyone heads down to the local pub before the next day’s war games, where O’Brien tells Roosevelt that he isn’t on speaking terms with his IRA brother and is loyal to the British Crown, then promptly sneaks out to meet his IRA brother to explain that the impending invasion will delay their plans to steal a bunch of heat rays to send back to Ireland for use in terrorism against the British. His brother threatens to kill him if he backs out of the plan, and makes a big point of how he is perfectly willing to screw over humanity in the face of unstoppable Martian invasion if he can sate his desire to kill the English. The brother, by the way, is voiced by Mark Sheppard. I guess after The X-Files, Sliders, Star Trek, Firefly24, The Middleman, Battlestar Galactica, Chuck, Warehouse 13, Supernatural and Doctor Who, he reckoned he needed one more sci-fi-cult-franchise to get the free sub.

Back at the bar, the Germans try to start shit. Richtofen unsuccessfully tries to calm things down, and we are almost treated to Teddy Roosevelt getting into a fist fight with the Red Baron. War of the Worlds: GoliathBut things settle down when Kushnirov shows up to deliver the news of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, and the resulting orders for the European ARES members to pack up and go home. Eric gives just about the most cliched speech in the world, which inexplicably convinces all of ARES to commit treason en masse and stay in New York, Richtofen even asserting, “Deutchland can kiss my ass.”

That night, Eric stays up late tinkering with Goliath, in order that he can have a tender scene with Jennifer, the child of wealth and privilege who ran off and joined the army to get away from her controlling father, so that she can tell him that his parents’ death isn’t his fault and because the movie is shipping these two, even though it can not spare the time away from mech battles to actually sell it. The next morning, a Martian scouting party attacks the war games. War of the Worlds: Goliath - Martian 1914 TripodThe new tripods are larger and sleeker in design, with more powerful heat rays that can cripple the large Achilles-class or destroy the smaller ARES tripods with a single shot. ARES is victorious against the small force, but the victory comes at a substantial cost.

ARES tripods are markedly smaller than their Martian counterparts, and boxier. They look pretty much like tanks with legs, a la Metal Gear. They’re armed with both red-beamed heat rays and more conventional weapons which, as in the novel, can fell a Martian tripod, but only with concentrated fire, a good deal of luck, and a distraction to keep the tripod from incinerating it first. Portable backpack-sized heat rays also exist. General Kushnirov commands a large “leviathan” airship, armed with its own giant wave motion canon dealie which they don’t whip out until the last scene.

After the battle, O’Brien visits his brother, to reiterate that the IRA does not consider an alien invasion a good reason to change their plans. Sean O’Brien declares his brother dead to him, then drops out of the story altogether because this part is boring. The next battle we see is implied to be the next day, but it makes far more sense for it to be some time later. Richtofen defends the leviathan from Martian flying machines while humming Ride of the Valkyries and pulling off maneuvers which, unless Wings 2: Aces High lied to me, aren’t actually possible in a World War I triplane (In their defense, on my second watching, there’s a bit earlier in the movie which suggests that Richtofen’s plane has been retrofitted with something akin to an afterburner).

War of the Worlds: Goliath - Red Baron

Goliath is disabled in battle and Eric’s team evacuates. They randomly meet a somewhat deranged militiaman who keeps his wife’s dismembered finger in a pouch around his neck. He leads them to an alien-occupied power plant, then conveniently sacrifices himself as a distraction. They mention in passing that human power plants are based on salvaged alien tech, which is odd since we have not seen a damned thing that doesn’t run on fossil fuels. War of the Worlds: GoliathThey rescue some captured humans from the Martian larder, though not before we get to see one of the prisoners get deep-throated to death by an alien bendy-straw. There’s an interesting level of effort here to keep the aliens themselves close to the book: physically, they’re sort of squid-like, enormous, leathery heads with exposed brains, a beak-like mouth, no body to speak of, living off the blood of their victims.

The power plant has been converted to a factory where the Martians are building a kind of dreadnought, a large flying wing that I assume is an homage to the pointless inclusion of Northrup YB-49 stock footage as a bit of spectacle in George Pal’s 1953 film adaptation. War of the Worlds: Goliath - Martian WingEveryone is shocked by it, and it’s clearly meant to be the first time they’ve seen this terrifying weapon. Which is odd, since they were mentioned in passing a few scenes earlier when talking about enemy troop movements. They blow up the plant and the flying wing therein, but it turns out that this is all part of an elaborate Martian feint, to draw the bulk of ARES out west while the Martian armada converges on Manhattan. Which technically makes the whole scene with them risking life and limb to destroy the Martian Wing pointless, but at least Eric gets laid for his trouble, as Jennifer jumps him later that night while he’s repairing Goliath.

And then, weirdly, the main characters kinda drop out of the story. Not entirely — they’ll turn up for a line or two — but once the action switches to the battle in Manhattan, they’re really no longer our main characters. War of the Worlds: Goliath - Teddy RooseveltRoosevelt’s defense of ARES HQ becomes the focus of the story now, and the whole rest of the film is just balls-to-the-wall action. Teddy Roosevelt brandishing a machine gun, shooting down Martian fighters; two ARES airships pulling out their giant heat-rays to attack a one of those Martian Wings (which knocks the Statue of Liberty off her pedestal, in accordance with the regulations mandating the destruction of the Statue of Liberty by any aliens and/or kaiju who attack New York City in a movie); a zepplin chase through the streets of Manhattan. The leviathan is damaged, and a lieutenant we’ve never seen before starts to fall toward the conflagration below. Kushnirov catches him and struggles to pull him back up, but as the general is the only person who could get to the controls to right the craft, the younger officer deliberately pulls free and falls to his death, but not before revealing to the audience that he’s Kushnirov’s son and only remaining family after the last war. Kushnirov wins the battle by crashing the leviathan into the Martian ship.

War of the Worlds: Goliath Climax

With the battle, but not the war, won, we close on Secretary Roosevelt giving a speech to the survivors in the ruins of ARES HQ, promising vengeance for their fallen comrades and to eventually take the fight to Mars.

War of the Worlds: Goliath is… Weird.  War of the Worlds: Goliath

Goliath
is also bizarrely gruesome. They love these scenes of soldiers being shredded by heat rays. Even the Martians get a little of it: Raja dispatches one with his knife and is left covered in glowing green blood (Remember this). And when the leviathan crashes into the Wing at the end, its prowl smashes through the windshield and impales the pilot through the eye.
I can not fault this movie visually. But that is just about the only thing I can’t fault. The plot is… Not so much a “plot” as a concept. The characters have some promise, but they don’t spend any time with them. I appreciate the attempt to have the characters be more than just ticking off boxes in an ethnic diversity matrix, but it doesn’t amount to anything: O’Brien’s Fenian sympathies boil down to two scenes of Adrian Paul and Mark Sheppard arguing which aren’t connected to anything else in the movie at all. Jennifer’s issues with her father are mentioned exactly twice. The extent of the characterization for Abraham Douglas (whose name sounds like it was generated by the algorithm they used to name black sitcom characters in the ’70s) is for him to mention that he’s got two daughters he’s worried about. We see the tail end of Raja performing the Salat, and there’s a scene that should go somewhere there when O’Brien and Raja talk about their shared status — they’re both from cultures that are unwillingly under British rule. But it doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no real direction to the plot, it’s just a bunch of seemingly random incidents that all take place under the blanket of this war.

War of the Worlds: Goliath - Statue of LibertyI came into this from the question, “What sort of world would we get a few decades after the Martians invade.”  The answer they give us is… incomplete. It is a different world — they’ve got tripedal tanks and suspension railways and the Statue of Liberty has a sword. But it’s just a motif, really. A little visual flavor. Europe’s still about to explode into a profoundly stupid war for profoundly stupid reasons. All the same people are in all the same places doing all the same things (Except for Roosevelt, who apparently did not seek a second term in this universe). There’s potential for something in the fact that Eric Wells commands an racially integrated coed unit, but no one ever says anything about it or takes more than a cursory glance at the implications of that.

You know what it feels like? An abridgment. This feels like when a long-running anime series gets condensed down to a two-hour OVA. In fact, it feels more than anything I can think of like the Family Home Entertainment VHS abridgments of Robotech, that would grind six episodes of the cartoon down to a 45-minute video. There’s so much promise here, but it’s like we’re only seeing the highlights reel. Characters basically enter, give us one scene to establish themselves, then leave. There should be more. Like hours more to cover the scope of what we’re seeing. We should see that whole relationship between Patrick and Sean O’Brien (And there should be a recurring threat from Sean’s partner who wants to kill Patrick outright for his betrayal). We should see a relationship between Jennifer and Eric, something more than just “It’s hinted he likes her in scene 4 and then she out of nowhere decides to bone him inside Goliath’s cockpit in scene 8″. Those prisoners they rescue from the power plant — they should go somewhere. Probably, they should end up having to stay on the leviathan for some length of time. There should be skirmishes and minor battles with the Martians. We should see Tesla studying bits of salvaged Martian technology. There should be some kind of buildup and backstory with Kushnirov and his son, rather than plot-bombing us with his son’s identity a second before you kill him. And the decision to make the climax of the movie center around the battle between the leviathan and the Martian Wing, rather than, y’know, Goliath is utterly incomprehensible; it’s a fine scene, but it shouldn’t be the climax — it should happen about five minutes before the climax, with their sacrifice buying the actual main characters their chance to deal the finishing blow to the attacking army. This movie feels incomplete: it’s insubstantial, and yet you can almost feel like there’s something substantial this has been carved out of.

Actually, Robotech. Hm. You know? This movie feels an awful lot like Robotech. Joe Pearson was a personal friend of Carl Macek, who converted two largely unrelated and one totally unrelated anime into the original three-season Robotech saga. They’d worked together in the ’80s (Not on Robotech, though Pearson does get a “special thanks” credit in 2013’s Robotech: Love Live Alive, which I briefly mentioned in relation to the Captain Power Training Videos). There are definitely parallels. An international force defending Earth using new technology developed from studying salvaged alien tech? The big ship with the big honkin’ gun being commanded by a Russian? I’m sure you’ll find parallels to lots of Mecha anime and it just happens that Robotech is the one I’m most familiar with. Goliath is very straightforwardly “Let’s do a standard ’80s style Giant Mecha anime only set during World War I as a sequel to War of the Worlds.” I would not mind watching a Goliath TV series. But as a movie, there’s very little here to bring me back. Not unlike The Great Martian War, it’s what they didn’t show me that interests me more than what they did.

February 4, 2015

I Heard You on the Wireless Back in ’52 (Captain Power: Freedom One)

Captain Power Episode 18: Gwynyth Walsh as Christine Larabee/Freedom OneFor Captain Power, the apocalypse is nearly upon us.

It is February 28, 1988. The Calgary Olympics ends with its closing ceremony. Thirty Armenians or more die in the Sumgait pogrom in Azerbaijan. Documents surface implicating now-Austrian President and former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in the deportation of Yugoslav Partisans to concentration camps in World War II. Though his involvement was never established as anything but minimal, he kinda became the poster-child for Germans (and Austrians of German descent) who “don’t remember” anything about what they were doing from round about 1933 to round about 1945 and really just wish you wouldn’t bring it up. Blues singer Edith North Johnson dies in St. Louis. Republican Presidential hopeful Pat Robertson publicly forgives Jimmy Swaggart for last week’s vaguely confessed-to sins involving prostitutes and speculates that the whole thing might be a conspiracy to derail Robertson’s presidential bid. Pat Robertson would not go on to be president, but would go on, in 2005, to blame Hurricane Katrina on gay sex, in 2010, to blame the Haiti earthquake on the Haitians having made a deal with Satan in order to escape slavery, and in 2015, to suggest that good Christian parents should beat their children into submission if they reject their parents’ religion.

George Michael tops the charts with “Father Figure”, and the Pet Shop Boys, Patrick Swayze, Rick Astley, and Eric Carmen all leapfrog over Exposé as well. Two days ago, General Hospital showed the first interracial wedding in on American daytime TV. Also that day, the original, non-musical version of Hairspray opened in theaters. Star Trek the Next Generation will take this week and the next off. Tomorrow, Day By Day will premier, a short-running show about some parents who quit their high-power ’80s jobs to open a home day care in order to spend more time with their young daughter, having decided that the whole high-power-80s-jobs thing had screwed up their teenage son. I mention it because Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was in it and the teenage son character had the same name as I do. He was played by Christopher Daniel Barnes, who would later play Greg Brady in the late-90s Brady Bunch parodies/reboots, which is extra funny because one of Day By Day’s later episodes was an extended dream sequence set in a Brady Bunch-pastiche guest-starring much of the original cast. Edward Mulhare will guest star on MacGyver in an episode I strongly suspect was actually recycled from an unused Knight Rider script (Specifically, one which would have seen Mulhare in a double-role as both series-regular Devon Miles, and his laid-back roguish-scamp twin brother). Courtney Gibbs will be crowned Miss America. The Joshua Tree wins Album of the Year at the Grammies while “Somewhere Out There” takes Song of the Year.

We are rapidly pulling up to the end of time. This episode, “Freedom One” is the last “regular” episode of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future to air. Four episodes remain, two two-parters, which themselves follow on one from the other directly enough that they easily could have been presented as a four-parter. Of course, it’s more complicated than that if you sort by the date codes in Captain Power’s log entries; in that case, this episode would have fallen back at the end of August, between “And Madness Shall Reign” and “And Study War No More”, with “Judgment” instead being the last episode before the arc-heavy wind-up. There are, as I’ve already said, problems with this ordering, but since the most affected episodes, “Freedom One”, “Judgment”, “The Eden Road” and “A Summoning of Thunder” have little to do with the Project New Order season arc, you probably could put them in any order, the main anchoring point being that “A Summoning of Thunder” explicitly takes place on the anniversary of Stuart Power’s death (Sorta. The stardate for the framing story and the one for the flashback aren’t actually consistent)  This show’s arc is very sparse. There’s a handful of references to Project New Order sprinkled in random episodes, but mostly, you’re talking about “The Mirror in Darkness“, “The Ferryman“, “And Study War No More“, and “And Madness Shall Reign“, while the finale will bring together some plot threads from “A Summoning of Thunder” and “The Eden Road” as well. Most of this season’s episodes have been what you’d call “filler” in a more modern arc-based series. But here we are, five weeks left, and we’re on the last one. After this one, things get real.

Have I done a good enough job un-selling you on this one? Sorry about that. It’s another episode that’s, y’know, fine. It’s kind of an “intrigue”-sort of episode. Star Trek Deep Space Nine was good at that sort of thing. Babylon 5 was good at that sort of thing (This episode, for what it’s worth, was written by Christy Marx, not JMS). Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future is not good at this sort of thing. They’re not terrible at it or anything, but it’s certainly not playing to its strengths.

We open on a montage of fight scenes (With a clip of Sandtown thrown in there as an establishing shot for some reason). We only get to see the Dread troopers, not the resistance cells fighting them, presumably because this is all spare footage from other episodes. A voiceover provides a summary of events. “This is Freedom One speaking, the voice of the East Coast (Pretty sure Sandtown was in the southwest…) Resistance Movement.  Valiant fighters in Quadrant Nine (So I guess there are “quadrants” now in addition to “sectors”) destroyed one column of Dread troops today. No casualties. Intensified sweeps by Soaron in Sector One (So Sector One is on the East Coast. God I hate this show’s sense of geography). All resistance fighters are warned to remain under cover. Just received word of a stunning blow against a secret Dread project by Captain Power and his unit (wink wink nudge nudge). They are an inspiration to us all.” This is a radio broadcast by the eponymous “Freedom One”. She’s not entirely unbelievable; she has something of a late-night-female-DJ sort of thing going on — she actually reminds me a lot of Delilah. But that kinda seems like a strange choice for the “voice of the resistance”. It’s a smooth, dulcet tone she uses, the sort that you might find soothing, to help you get through a breakup or your dog dying. But I wouldn’t think it’s the kind of tone that would be comforting to people in a war zone. That sort of, “Hey, it’s okay; life is still beautiful. Here, you should just relax and listen to some Patrick Swayze,” thing isn’t particularly compatible with the whole “Most of the human race is dead or digitized” thing. I think you’d want something more energizing than relaxing. More Art Bell, maybe.

“Freedom One,” or rather Christine Larabee, is played by Gwynyth Walsh, a regular in the Syndicated Speculative Fiction Filmed in Western Canada arena. According to her filmography, she seems to play medical doctors a lot. That kind of makes sense, given the voice: it’s exactly the sort of soothing thing you’d want to convey things like Gwynyth Walsh as B'Etor of the house of Duras“You can trust me,” and “Don’t panic,” when delivering bad news (Or, as in her recurring roles on Da Vinci’s Inquest and NYPD Blue, a sense of trustworthiness when explaining medical evidence). That said, the role you’re most likely to know her from is B’Etor, one of the Duras sisters, the recurring villains in Star Trek the Next Generation who were largely responsible for the Enterprise-D’s destruction in Star Trek: Generations.

At the Power Base, Captain Power and Hawk are worried, because Freedom One has missed a transmission. That’s kind of a clunky transition, since she was literally still finishing her voice-over after the scene started — less than a second passes between her sign-off and Hawk fretting that her broadcast hasn’t started yet. If that wasn’t awkward enough, she starts broadcasting again just as Cap says that he hopes nothing’s happened to her.

She explains that she’d had to relocate after a close call, and gives personal thanks to our old friend Cypher, who’d saved her at great personal cost. Our heroes share a moment of… I’ll be nice and call it stoicism rather than dull surprise, Cap even putting a hand on Pilot’s shoulder. She’s the only one who chooses to actually look sad at the news of Cypher’s apparent demise rather just squaring their jaws. I’d kind of have preferred it if they’d made it Scout who emoted and had Pilot remain stoic, especially if this episode really is meant to go before “Judgment”.
“Sacrifice is a word we all know too well. There is no one within the sound of my voice who has not lost someone. A wife, husband, children, friend, lover. But there is one thing we must never lose: Hope. Without hope, we’ll give up when we’re tired and hungry and it seems as if chaos and madness must overwhelm us. Hope is the flame that burns in our hearts. It’s warmth when the soul is cold. It’s light when the darkness surrounds us.”

Dread troops raid another resistance base, a cave stocked with worn and old equipment, manned by resistance fighters in clean, unworn and professionally tailored uniforms. Captain Power Episode 18 - Elzar Comforts the dying GundarThough the bad guys are driven off, at least one soldier is morally wounded, and asks them to leave the radio on so that he can enjoy Freedom One’s voice as he dies. I guess this is supposed to sell us on the idea that her cliché platitudes about hope really are a big part of what’s holding the resistance together. I guess it was nice of her to stop talking for a minute during the battle so we wouldn’t miss any of her speech.

At the end of her broadcast, she gives a special message, “I summon the thunder.” Captain Power recognizes this (and, though everyone in the room clearly already knew this, he will explain it to them a second later) as a code-phrase indicating that she’s about to transmit encrypted co-ordinates for a face-to-face meeting, apparently in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

Captain Power Episode 18 - MapIn Duxbury (By which I mean, “in the exact same ruined-urban-landscape set as they use in 2/3 of the episodes”), a woman in a helmet and pink jumpsuit is nearly gunned down by a monocle-wearing bling-NaziCaptain Power Episode 18, but Captain Power and his gang arrive on hoverbikes and save the day by shooting the bad guys in the crotch. Captain Power Episode 18The angles on the fight scene are awkward, never even coming close to lining up when they cut from heroes to villains. A clicker dutifully waits while Pilot lands her hoverbike before trying to shoot her in the back, which gives Hawk time to dispatch it. “Got to watch your backdoor, kid,” he admonishes her. Pilot’s response is an awkward salute. Her motions are sort of overblown and panto in a way that reminds me of the stylized body language in Super Sentai. I’m guessing it’s stunt actors in these scenes, since their faces aren’t visible and they don’t move like Peter MacNeill and Jessica Steen. She also says “Uh…. Thanks?” in a tone that suggests to me that she was fully aware how dirty it sounded for Hawk to tell her to “watch her backdoor”.

Peter MacNeill as Hawk in Captain Power episode 18We also get the minor treat of watching Hawk’s wings retract, a VFX shot which has never been depicted before. Way too late for it to be apropos, Hawk thinks of a clever one-liner about the mech he killed — whose foot got caught in a rope as he fell off the building — and notes, “Funny how they’re always hanging around.” It’s been so long since they showed it hanging off the roof that I actually couldn’t work out what he was talking about until my third viewing.

After cleaning up the rest of the troops, Cap and Freedom One meet in person. In person, she’s a lot more glib and snarky. She proposes a meeting of the five most important resistance leaders, which everyone thinks is a terrible idea, but she’s sorted out that Captain Power must have teleportation powers, because ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION IT IS GOING TO BE REALLY IMPORTANT THAT CAPTAIN POWER HAS TELEPORTATION POWERS SOON, which she reckons will let them get everyone together too fast for Dread to do anything about it.

She isn’t really clear on what the point of this meeting is, beyond the fact that they’ve agreed to name Cap as the Overall Leader Of The Resistance. Which is nice and all, but as a purely practical matter, no one ever makes the case for why they can’t all just coordinate remotely via the same kind of “tight beam transmission” that they used to set up the meeting — there’s no explanation of what the advantage is in a face-to-face meeting. Sure, meeting people in person is nice and all, but under the circumstances?

In any case, Captain Power agrees to a meeting in “sector 23″, and to go pick up the resistance leaders, “Sands”, “Gundar”, “Blaise”, “Evangier” and Cypher — who I guess isn’t dead, even though it seems like they were implying the heck out of that a scene ago.

Christine tells Cap her real name, and asks for his. Finally, after all these episodes, someone is properly surprised that “Power” is his real name, having assumed it was a “silly codename”, like her own handle. I don’t think anyone doing the boots-on-the ground making of this show was ever really sold on the name.

Dread Base - Captain Power Episode 18

The meeting is at an abandoned Dread base, which Captain Power, because he is no Admiral Ackbar, thinks is clever rather than a trap. When she asks him to guard her backpack transmitter, he stoics his way through a little speech about how people are more important than machines. She calls him an “innocent” for his sentimentality, and for some reason, that actually gets a smile out of him. I am going to deliberately misinterpret that evidence that he is in fact secretly a serial killer who’s been keeping it under control by channeling his psychopathic impulses into the war, as previously hinted way back in “The Mirror in Darkness“.

Because it’s obviously a trap, after a bit of flirting with Cap, she goes off to another room and summons a Lord Dread hologram. After the commercial break, she outs herself to us as a deep-cover Overunit, who’s spent “months” building up her street-cred in order to set up this trap. She’s pissed that her boss has called her in the middle of all this, but he puts her in her place, and explains that the dead guy from a couple of scenes ago was, in fact, Gundar. This is a problem, because Gundar’s second, ElzarElzar, turns out to have met Christine in her pre-Freedom-One days. Fortunately, Gundar had personally requested Pilot to be his pickup, so Dread can kill two birds with one stone since death is “the fate of all traitors and rebels,” which totally isn’t foreshadowing.

Raymond O'Neill as Elzar in Captain PowerTank picks up Cypher, who seems totally fine and in good spirits, so what the hell was all that stuff about Cypher having sacrificed to rescue her anyway? Pilot picks up Elzar without even questioning the fact that some guy she’s never met is claiming he’s Gundar’s replacement without anything to back that up aside from a freshly pressed uniform without any trace of wear on it. How have these guys stayed alive this long?

I guess we’re not going to bother with Sands, Blaise and Evangier. Pilot and Elzar arrive at their designated trap to face off with Blastarr. Blastarr, as has been the case lately, looks really good, at least while they’re fighting (When he switches his feet over to roller skates to drive off later, he looks like an animated GIF). Pilot takes a shot to the chest for Elzar and then a wall falls on them. Blastarr declares them dead and leaves, because Blastarr is really stupid. Blastarr - Captain Power Episode 18
Elzar and Pilot have dug themselves out of the rubble and are completely unharmed when the camera angle changes, and Pilot wasn’t even conscious at the time.
The plot realizes it’s running out of time, so Captain Power becomes inexplicably suspicious of Christine when she announces that Pilot’s been delayed, and follows her when she leaves the transmitter she’d been using to talk to Lord Dread to go outside and use a completely different transmitter to let Lord Dread know that it’s time to attack. She gives up on her cover immediately and pulls a gun on Cap, but at exactly that moment, Elzar shows up carrying Pilot, who shoots Christine in the hand.

Captain Power decides to stay behind to delay the incoming troops while the others escape out the, irm, back door (Because for some reason this base has a back door that Dread will not think to watch). Hawk warns Cap that they “won’t have time to get back to you,” and Cap, who must have missed a page in the script, responds, “So I’ll have the element of surprise.” Captain Power orders Christine taken to the passages, in order to be, I am not making this up, tortured for information (Well, what he says is to have their “psych people” try to get something out of her, but the venom in his voice hints at what he has in mind. Remember, she’s a true believer; she hasn’t been brainwashed or tortured into compliance like, say, Athena). Okay, at least he doesn’t set her up to be digitized.

There’s a nice chase scene of Cap playing hide-and-seek through the base pursued by mechs and a gloating Blastarr. At one point, Captain Power dispatches a group of troops by shooting blindly over his shoulder without having given any indication he knew they were behind him. We see too much of Blastarr’s feet, though, which is hard on the illusion since they never quite look like they’re really on the ground. It’s also a bit too much of a curbstomp for me to really believe this ambush ever had a chance of working — if Cap can dominate so easily, how did they expect to beat the entire power team plus the five most experienced soldiers in the resistance?

Blastarr and a Dalek. Captain Power Meets Doctor Who

Captain Power finally escapes Blastarr’s pursuit by… Climbing up a ladder. On the roof of a building that looks nothing like the exterior of the Dread Base we’d seen earlier, Cap holds off the remaining mechs until Hawk shows up on a hover bike to rescue him. As they fly away, Cap catches a transmission from the new voice of the resistance. Elzar, having escaped with Christine’s backpack (which I didn’t mention before because there’s nothing much to say about it, but they did kind of play up the fact that the backpack transmitter was kind of macguffiny, presumably because of its power, range and portability), is now calling himself “Freedom Two”. He’s a lot more what you’d expect from the role too, going not for soothing, but rallying:

“The Voice of the Resistance will stay on the air, I make that pledge and I intend to keep it. This is the new voice of the resistance, Freedom Two. And if anything happens to me, there’s gonna be a Freedom Three. And four. And five. We didn’t start this war, but we’re going to finish it.”

Continue reading

January 28, 2015

In case you missed it…

To accompany today’s article on The Great Martian War, I’ve put together this:

History Documentary Pitch Generator

A sample:

wotwii02In 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, and sunk, among the mistiest occurrences of recorded history. Or so it seemed. Now, 3D printing and a new-age religion challenge long-held assumptions, and may just rewrite the story of the Titanic forever.

http://trenchcoatsoft.com/cgi-bin/history.cgi?id=q24.5gcp111

Deep Ice: The war scare was over (“The Great Martian War 1913-1917″)

The Great Martian WarI’ll Explain Later…

It is June 26, 1913. Civil War veterans begin arriving in Gettysburg, PA for the Great Reunion marking the fiftieth anniversary of the battle. A few days ago, Tiny Broadwick made history as the first woman to parachute from a plane. Chauncey Olcott’s recording of “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” tops the charts. In theaters are Charles Gyblyn’s The Battle of Gettysburg and Mack Sennett’s Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life, which you’ve probably seen without realizing it because it’s the movie that invented the old-timey movie trope of a villain tying a woman to the railroad tracks. Buffalo, New York is recovering from a grain elevator explosion earlier in the week that killed seventeen men and injured fifty. Avalon, California is incorporated. The Washington Senators host the Philadelphia Athletics in a double-header.

Oh, and Earth is invaded by an advanced and hostile alien race from the planet Mars.

History Channel LogoSo, I’ll grant it’s entirely possible that I just imagined this, but I think that possibly when I was a younger man, The History Channel did not… suck. I mean, they had their share of crap shows and all, but mostly they were a respected institution. One of my professors in college got interviewed by them a fair number of times on the subject of Joan of Arc. By the time I was in grad school, they were well on their way to transitioning into being mostly about Hitler, lost treasures, historical reports of supernatural entities, and Hitler’s Leveraging of Supernatural Entities to Hide Treasures. And more and more recently, they’ve come under fire for using their once-trustworthy documentary filmmaking chops to put out works of fiction that pretend to be real documentaries about mermaids and suchlike. At least they still show stuff about the pyramids sometimes. I like the Egyptology stuff.

In 2013, the History Channel produced one of these faux-documentaries about World War I, sorta. They recast the Great War, getting rid of all that messy and inconvenient history with an adaptation of, you guessed it, The War of the Worlds. We’ve covered three “newscast”-style adaptations so far, so I thought we’d try out a “documentary”-style one. There is one more documentary-style adaptation, 2012’s War of the Worlds: The True Story, but that’s largely a reworking of an earlier traditional movie, and I’m not going to cover it because I’ve already watched the movie it’s reworked from, which was enough of a slog that I never want to do that again. So I guess this, provisionally at least, marks the end of our little trek through adaptations of HG Wells’s novel that are presented with the framing device of a real historical event being reported. Unless I can somehow find an angle to squeeze out an article about Henry Legg’s Twitter adaptation. Which I probably can’t.

So let’s do this thing. It’s a little strange to even call this an adaptation of War of the Worlds, really. I mean, is “Earth gets invaded by aliens, ostensibly from Mars” enough to make it count? There’s loads of movies where Earth gets invaded by aliens, even specifically Martians, but not all of them are considered “War of the Worlds”. The key factors seem to be that the Martians arrive in a meteor, sweep over the world without meaningful opposition, then are all struck dead by what amounts to divine intervention, because they have no natural immunity to the common cold (At least, it’s usually remembered as the common cold; the book says “putrefactive and disease bacteria”, and even this Wells qualifies as unproven hypothesis. Viruses had only just been discovered when Wells published). The war as presented in The Great Martian War 1913-1917 unfolds very differently from other adaptations. Sure, the broad strokes of the story are mostly there, but so much is changed. Most importantly, the war isn’t a complete curbstomp: humanity can and does fight back. It is still only through a bit of a deus ex machina that mankind is able to win in the end, but it’s not so much “Killed after all man’s defenses had failed,” as “This war would have gone on for years and probably ended in a slow defeat had this one big push right at the end not worked so perfectly.”

But it’s got tripods, so there’s that. We’ve talked about one adaptation using the height of 1930s radio technology, and one using 1960s radio technology and a cast of non-actors and a budget of “what we can find around the studio”, and one really cheap production that was kind of profoundly unconvincing. But if there’s one thing The History Channel is good at, it’s at convincingly pretending to document fake history, so at the least, this is going to be a lot more proficient on a technical level than what we’ve seen before.

Since this isn’t a traditional narrative,  I’m going to be a lot more light-handed on the play-by-play. While The Great Martian War doesn’t have a “story” per se, it does have an “angle”. That’s a clever choice, I think, and adds to the authentic feel. This isn’t “Ken Burns’s War of the Worlds”, a twelve-hour epic providing a semester’s worth of lecture on the history of the war. Just like a real History Channel documentary, this is very much “Hey, there’s been a recent discovery that makes this old topic timely again, so here’s seventy minutes of background to get you up to speed and then we’re going to deliver a bit of actually new information at the end,” just as you’d see in a real documentary: “We got permission to X-ray a mummy. Here’s seventy minutes about the Third Dynasty and then we’ll show you what we found.” The angle for them is a recent breakthrough in translating alien text. “2013 is the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great Martian War – a conflict unequaled in devastation and often mired in controversy. But the lost legacy of a forgotten hero, unearthed only last year might just ignite the biggest controversy of all.”Regardless of what you think of the History Channel’s sensationalist style (Hey, maybe they could make their motto “We put the History in Histrionic!”), this is just pitch-perfect. It’s practically Mad Libs: <current year> marks <length of time> since <historical event>, among the <superlative> <category of events> in human history. But now, new <research | discovery | witnesses | technology> might just have unearthed the most <unexpected | startling | terrifying> secrets of all, and changed the way we look at <event | all of human history | our place in the universe | Hitler> forever.”

Our narrative frame for this little adventure through faux-history is Gus Lafonde, a Canadian Anishinaabe soldier, who’d left detailed notebooks of his observations during the war, recently rediscovered by his great-granddaughter. The Great Martian War: Gus LafondeI think it’s a bit of a pleasant sign of the times we live in that they made the effort to do a little bit to correct the extent to which the indigenous peoples of the Americas are represented in things like 20th century history, especially in a context that implies that his work had been largely overlooked precisely because no one was expecting a major breakthrough to come from a First Nations enlisted soldier. That his discoveries are specifically linked to the translation of the alien language may be an homage to the Navajo Code Talkers, though it that’s true, it’s maybe just a bit uncomfortable that they’ve conflated the country, tribe, and which war it was. But still, props and all.

The “Martian War” will follow the broad outline of the Western Front of the European Theater of World War I, transposed one year backward in time (Presumably to keep everything at the right time of year while preempting the historical war). Lots of elements of the historical war are there — the US’s early isolationism and late entry, the von Schlieffen plan, the Battle of the Marne, chemical warfare, the introduction of tanks. Others are recast: Paul von Hindenburg is crucial in the defense of Paris; Douglas Haig is remembered as an inspirational leader and his troop losses as fully justified; the Lusitania is reimagined as an American liner, and the events precipitating America’s entry into the war draws more from Perl Harbor than the Zimmerman Telegram. Other things still are missing: there’s no references to an Eastern Front. Russia is completely absent. The Ottoman Empire is completely absent. There’s no campaign in Africa, and naval warfare is minimal.

In order for you to slot Martians into the story of World War I, of course, you need to clear out some space first. This is a little tricky; one of the reasons “Why did World War I happen?” is so hard to answer is that World War I was caused less by one specific thing happening, and more by the fact that the general trend of European History was for them all to go to war with each other every few decades, and it was just tough cookies that there’d been a technological revolution since the last one that made warfare possible on an industrial scale. Blackadder Goes Forth. Image from bbc.co.ukThe most accurate summation of why World War I happened I’ve ever heard comes from Edmund Blackadder: it was too much effort not to have a war.

Now, obviously, you can recast the story any way you like, but if you want to be able to draw from real history, both because it lets you show interesting parallels, and also because if you’re not sure what should happen next, you can just look up what happened next in real life, the simplest way to do it is to remove one of the historical players in the war and stick the Martians there instead. So that is what they did. Most adaptations move the invasion so that it occurs on the adaptor’s home turf: Orson Welles had the Martians invade New Jersey and work their way up to New York. Jeff Kaye put them in Buffalo. The 1953 Hollywood film put the aliens in California. Breaking News put them in Mojave. The Great Martian War needs to write the Central Powers out of the war to make room for the Martians, so it breaks with tradition: an American production with a very British focus places the one and only Martian landing site in the Bohemian Forest. Most adaptations have the Martians land all over the world; the only one off the top of my head that doesn’t is the WKBW version, where the invasion is centered on the east coast of North America (Interestingly, though, the novel doesn’t say one way or the other. The narrator speculates that the invaders might move outward from England — which they obviously made their first priority as it was the most important country in the world, the rest being full of foreigners — but he never becomes personally aware of invasions outside of England). Here, there’s just one mass landing, which generates a shockwave felt across Europe.

This being pseudohistory, I think parallels to the Tunguska Event are intentional, and it’s almost a little surprising that no one brings it up. The other obvious parallel is something which does get brought up, but never by name. Like I said, in 1913, World War I was already more-or-less inevitable. When an earth-shattering explosion occurred in the heart of the German Empire, everyone’s first assumption was that Kaiser Wilhelm had just test-fired some kind of new super-weapon. Everyone except the Germans, of course, who assume someone else just test-fired some kind of new super-weapon at them. “His Majesty the Emperor, in the name of God, the Fatherland, and the German people, begs the assistance of his brother nations. Germany is under attack by assailants not of this earth.” Six days after German troops enter the impact zone, however, the Kaiser sends word begging the other world powers to come to their aid against, “assailants not of this earth”. It takes less than a week for Germany to collapse, and the world is at war by the end of July.

The tripods, hallmark of any War of the Worlds adaptation, are called “Herons” in The Great Martian War, and they pay homage not only to the novel, but to the many adaptations done over the years. The Great Martian War: Heron TripodThe “heat ray” is described as a “slow-firing energy cannon”, and, like their 1953 counterparts, the Herons are protected by an “energy shield”. There’s a rare hint at how this world’s 2013 has diverged from our own: the shields are described as “The first introduction we had to the many uses of dark energy particles.” The Herons are a bit similar in design to Warwick Goble’s original illustrations for the serial run of The War of the Worlds (Which Wells himself personally disowned and criticized in a passage he added when the book was published in novel form). The “black smoke” is a function of the Herons too, a “toxic cloud” that surrounds the machines. The effectiveness of it is greatly scaled down here, though, making it much more similar to the chemical weapons that were introduced in the real-world Great War. Gas masks prove effective against it, though interviewee Jock Donnelly describes the sense of dreadful isolation that comes with that sort of fighting.

The Great Martian War: Jock Macleod as Jock DonnelyThis is another thing that The Great Martian War does well. The interview footage is really convincing. In fact, if you told me some of it was actual interviews with real World War I veterans — the bits where they’re just speaking about the horrors of war or conditions in the trenches without anything specific about aliens — I’d believe you. I’d be pissed that they’d misrepresented the real testimony of real people’s real suffering for this show, but I’d believe you. (It’s not. I checked. The interview footage is all done with actors). What sells it is the audiovisual texture. Remember, this is purporting to be a documentary made a century after the fact: hardly anyone who was alive in 1913 would be available for interview in 2013, and certainly no one who was old enough to have served in combat (The last known World War I veteran died in 2012), so this is all archive footage dated from the ’60s to the ’90s. The sound is flat. The video is grainy — and it’s grainy in different ways. Interviews dated to the early ’80s have film grain, and those from the ’90s have VHS artifacts. Some of it is in 4:3. Other parts are widescreen but have that slightly-wrong look of having been cropped and enlarged. The colors are either oversaturated or faded depending on the vintage. The only interview footage that looks really inauthentic is of an interview with author Nerys Vaughn in the 1960s, and even there, it looks quite a lot like the “reenacted” interviews they sometimes attach to this sort of documentary.

There are actually four kinds of Martian war machines in Wells’s original novel (Or three, if you don’t count the flying machine mentioned only in the original serial version). Hardly any adaptations ever follow up on this; it’s only the large tripod machines that get covered. The Great Martian War: Iron SpiderThe Great Martian War, though, wants a “whole” war story, so it takes the rare step of changing it up a bit. Like the original, there are four distinct types of Martian war machine, though they’re entirely distinct from those in the novel. The second type of machine introduced is the “Iron Spider”, a smaller form of tripod that acts as the Martian infantry. It’s a clever way to divvy things up: between the original and its many famous adaptations, there’s a whole assortment of traits associated with the Martian war machines that are kind of a clusterfrak when put together, so here, they divide up the popular tripod traits between the two different kinds of machine. The Spiders are smaller and far more agile than the Herons, whose size honestly makes them look kind of awkwardly matched against human infantry. The primary purpose of the Herons, it seems, is not to kill humans in large numbers directly, but rather to destroy cover and force soldiers out into the open, where the agile Spiders, roughly the size of a modern tank and twice as tall, could dispatch them with “ribbons of death”, highly articulated tentacles that are extremely accurate to the tentacle appendages Wells described on the fighting machines, prefiguring modern inventions like electroactive polymers and muscle-wire.

By August, the situation on the continent looks desperate — the Martians are expected to take Paris within weeks, when Paul von Hindenburg and the German Army turn up, revealing that they’d been hiding in the woods for a few months. In real history, Count von Hindenburg was a major German war hero on the Eastern Front, who went on to the German presidency, and is remembered as probably the last guy who could have stopped Hitler from rising to power except that he didn’t, and kinda sounds like the German version of Ulysses S. Grant. The fictionalized Hindenburg implemented the von Schlieffen Plan, which, near as I can figure, is basically “Slip into France the back way through Belgium,” bringing along the German army and every other surviving German he could round up. In the real world, it was a devastating strategy for defeating France, whose only flaw was that it didn’t actually work: Belgium took a certain objection to the German Army rolling through, which made everything harder, and on top of that, Russia didn’t take nearly as long to get its act together as they’d anticipated, so they had to divert troops to the other side of Germany to fight the other half of the war.

The Great Martian War: Louse Machine

Ironically, the failure of the von Schlieffen Plan in real life had pretty much the same effect as the success of it in The Great Martian War: it caused what had been a juggernaut advance by the invading army to stall out into years of stalemated trench warfare. And it was in the trenches that the third class of Martian war machine came into play: at night, as fighting slowed down, the ground-based “lice” would scour the battlefield, sweeping it clean of the day’s debris of war. The documentary makes a big deal out of the psychological impact of this: dead soldiers could not be recovered for burial, and rumors spread of the Martians invaders making some hideous use of the dead and wounded — keep in mind, in the original novel, the Martians were vampiric (Based on some comically incorrect Victorian ideas about how digestion worked, Wells assumed that a more advanced race would evolve beyond the need to eat and would just inject the blood of lesser creatures, and this would somehow be more efficient), and herded humans for food.

It’s kind of strange, in fact, how much they make of this, since it turns out to be a red herring: about twenty minutes later, they reveal that the missing dead weren’t taken by the Martians at all, but rather simply crushed into the mud: the lice were actually just sweeping the field for spent shell casings and other bits of metal debris, which they recycled to build their war machines.

A kind of parody of the famous Christmas Truce of 1914 occurs in December 1913: fighting draws to a halt on Christmas night as the Martians launch a series of “Christmas Stars” into the sky. But this “truce” has a twist reminiscent of the Racnoss Christmas Star from Doctor Who: what the Martians have launched are their fourth kind of war machine, kraken-like submarines that attack the shipping lanes.

In the real world, the 1915 sinking of the RMS Lusitania came close to bringing the US into the war. That’s mirrored here in the sinking of the Aquitania. There’s a bit of a slip though: the historical RMS Aquitania was a sister-ship of the Lusitania, launched in May 1914. The Great Martian War: RMS AquitaniaThe historical Aquitania would serve in both World Wars as a troop transport and hospital ship, and operate in peacetime as a cruise ship until 1950 (It was the longest-serving passenger liner of the 20th century, surpassed only in 2004 by the QE2). But the ship is identified by narration as American (Even though the illustration they show is clearly based on the real ship and bears the historically correct Liverpool marking).

As in real history, half the American public gets all riled up and wants to join the war, but the other half still reckons that this is Europe’s war and none of our damned business, and President Wilson kept the US out of the war. And here, Theodore Roosevelt, the historical equivalent of Harrison Ford in Air Force One, reenters history. In real life, Roosevelt did push for the US to enter the war, and in 1917, he tried to raise up a volunteer army to go fight in Europe. Wilson shut him down and sent the real army instead. Roosevelt acts earlier in the Martian war, and Wilson concedes to public opinion, allowing Roosevelt’s volunteers to ship out in 1914.

Meanwhile, Gus Lafonde, our “angle” on this, had been counting coup. I don’t know how I feel about this. On the one hand, it has a hint of TV’s usual “Magic Indian” trope: the humble indigenous American who is able to do what the white folks can’t because of his people’s rich heritage, specifically something the white folks in the audience have probably heard of already. On the other hand, by making his contribution tie specifically to his specific cultural background, it does make his presence a part of the narrative and not just “We wanted extra credit for diversity so we spun the Wheel-of-Minorities and it came up ‘Canadian First Nations’.” Sneaking into Martian encampments under cover of night, he steals alien artifacts and makes notes on their writing which, a century later, would lead to its decipherment.

The Great Martian War: Martian

Things start to turn around for the allies when, having discovered the size of the Martian force, they undertake a daring plan to capture a Heron through undermining. The captured Heron reveals the true intent of the lice, as it’s made from locally-sourced materials. We also get to see the physical nature of the aliens. There’s a clear similarity between the alien bodies and the alien war machines. That’s a common theme in adaptations, and is suggested by the book in a limited sort of way (Wells notes that the aliens don’t use pivot joints, and this seems reflective of the fact that their own bodies, being akin to cephalopods, don’t have them). Odd when you think of it, since humans have never built vehicles designed based on the way we look outside of Japanese cartoons. These aliens look like a kind of anencephalic insect. Correspondingly, the Herons, Spiders and Lice alike all have these sort of pillbug-shaped bodies, differing mostly in size and the design of the legs.

wotwii13

The other thing to come out of the capture is where The Great Martian War makes its real contribution of something genuinely new to the “mythology”. Because once the Heron is down, its attendant Spiders surrender. Investigation turns up that the Spiders are unmanned, controlled instead by a “living organic metal” they term “victicite”. The victicite turns out to be not only the key to Martian technology, but seems like it’s actively trying to be helpful, causing allied war techology to advance. Though, just like the first tanks of the real World War I, the technology is unreliable at first and its impact is limited. Though the energy-weapons are effective, they’re prone to exploding, and the “landships” aren’t fast or maneuverable enough to evade Heron counterattacks — they can dispatch a single Heron, but . Their first real successful use comes when three ace pilots using experimental energy weapons defeat a Heron that’s wandered across the Channel to London. The pilot survives, but catches glanders from police horses and promptly dies.

Unlike the other interpretations we’ve seen, then, though it’s still a disease that will ultimately bring down the Martians, it won’t be an act of nature, but flat-out biological warfare. Glanders really was used as a bioweapon in World War I along the Eastern Front to infect horses. However, it would take most of a year for the virus to be weaponized, and the Martians are expected to conquer all of Europe before that can happen.

The Great Martian WarFortunately for Europe, the Martians inexplicably attack a group of American destroyers.  Or do they? The interviewed historian points out that there’s no hard evidence of Martian presence in the Gulf of Mexico, and notes that Allied U-Boats had the range to have done it themselves, coyly hinting that it may have been a false flag by the Allies to trick the Americans into the war. Woodrow Wilson resigns in disgrace, and for some reason — they talk around it, but it kinda sounds like a coup — this makes Teddy Roosevelt president and the US enters the war proper.

Victicite-based weapons and American reinforcements slow down the Martians enough for the final push, called “Operation Trojan Horse”. To the troops on the line, it sounds very much like it’s going to follow the general outline of the Hundred Days’ Offensive, and desertion starts to become a problem as they expect to be sent on a suicidal final charge against an unstoppable foe. “Many amongst us are tired. To those, I say hold firm. Ultimate victory is within our grasp. With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.” Sir Douglas Haig, who in our world became the poster-child for the kind of disengaged aristocratic general who happily sends huge numbers of his own men to their deaths because he thinks of war as a sort of jolly academic exercise rather than a real thing that affects real people, delivers a stirring speech that restores order. The push turns out to be a feint: when the Martians easily rout the charge, they press their advantage, the Herons charging into vast pens of glanders-infected horses up and down the 50-mile line. Within a day or so, all are dead.

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January 21, 2015

Heading out to Eden, yea, brother (Captain Power: The Eden Road)

Captain Power Episode 18: The Eden RoadIt is February 22, 1988. This week will see Katarina Witt get an Olympic gold medal for figure skating in Calgary, Archbishop Desmond Tutu get arrested in South Africa, Senator Bob Packwood get hauled feet-first before Congress by Capitol police to answer a quorum call (And you thought partisan politics were effed up in 2014!). The Supreme Court will side with Larry Flynt in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell. Falwell and Flynt would apparently later become personal friends despite their differences, presumably finding common ground in the fact that they were both kinda jerks. Yesterday, Jimmy Swaggart gave his infamous “I have sinned,” speech, confessing in vague terms to an unspecified sin that pretty much everyone by now knew was some form of really liking prostitutes.

Exposé has the number one spot on the Billboard charts with “Seasons Change”, while George Michael’s “Father Figure” is on the rise, and will overtake it by the week’s end. The other newcomer in the top ten is Rick Astley, making is preparations for the invention of YouTube.
At this point in my life, I don’t think I’d ever seen The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, an early ’60s teen comedy based on an earlier Bobby Van movie, about a hapless and slightly doofy teenager who dreams of a more glamorous life than working at his dad’s grocery store and settling down with the girl next door, as he pursues social and romantic advancement with town’s preeminent beauties such as Tuesday Weld’s Thalia Menninger, while evading the affections of the homelier girl-next-door Zelda Gilroy. Also, Bob Denver plays… Pretty much Shaggy from Scooby-Doo (In fact, the creators of Scooby-Doo Where Are You? eventually admitted that all four of the human characters were based on Dobie regulars, Fred is Dobie, Velma is Zelda, Daphne is Thalia and Shaggy is Maynard). I bring it up because February 21, 1988, they showed a reunion movie that I remember fairly well, not least of all for its amazingly WTF title, Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis. The reunion finds Dobie, decades later, working at his dad’s grocery store and married to the girl next door. One of the “Many Loves” returns to town, decides she does want Dobie after all, and offers an exorbitant sum of money to stimulate the town’s flagging economy if they murder him after he spurns her affections. Of course he spurns her affections; he’s finally at peace with the fact that the simple life of taking over your father’s working-class job and marrying the homely girl as a reward for her loyalty and persistence even though you’ve never shown any actual attraction or interest is the far superior life to fame, fortune, and women who are attractive in the way Hollywood tells us is superior. Because moral messages come and go with the years in TV Land, but the one moral imperative that can never be broken is, “Don’t get ideas above your station.” The plot is lifted from a 1956 Swiss play about justice and dehumanization that’s considered one of the most important 20th century German-language literary works. Which is very strange to contemplate, in kind of the same way that it’s hard to contemplate that Zombie Strippers (A hard-R skin-flick about exotic dancers who are also undead), is an adaptation of Ionesco’s The Rhinoceroses(An absurdist play about the rise of fascism as represented by people turning into even-toed ungulates).
TV this week is still dominated by the Olympics. Everything’s new this week, but it’s all shows I’ve mentioned before. A TV movie on Sunday, and CBS is showing The Wizard of Oz on Wednesday. Star Trek the Next Generation airs “Home Soil”. Here’s Vaka Rangi on that, because I was just saying a little while ago that I should link to that more. The important bit is that it’s the episode that gave us the line, “Ugly bags of mostly water.”

This week on Captain Power and The Soldiers of the Future, it’s another oddball episode, “The Eden Road”. Like “The Intruder“, this is an episode that’s heavily haunted by the ghost of the second season that never was, and is a lot weaker than it would have been if we were looking back on it as foreshadowing the big moves of season, let’s say, three.

The “Eden” of the title refers to “Eden 2″, which had been referenced way back (or shortly back, depending on your perspective) in “Wardogs“. And here, it’s helpful to glance back at some of the production materials.

Eden 2 is a concept that came up very early in the creative process for Captain Power. Captain Power Design Sketch - Eden 2Described as a quasi-mythical “Shangri La”, it was meant to be a hidden refuge where humanity could not simply survive the war outside, but flourish in the face of it. Envisioned as a large, underground biosphere, the series bible proposes that in the show’s second season, following the loss of the Power Base, Cap and company would actually relocate there, persuading the Edenites to join his cause and make a stand against Lord Dread. We now know that this idea was heavily modified by the time they went into production, of course, with the commissioned scripts for season 2 instead moving Captain Power to a secret identical Power Base apparently unaffiliated with Eden 2. Though obviously, there are still shades of the idea: the second Power Base was, like one of the proposals for Eden 2, to be hidden in the arctic, for example. It could well be that relocation to Eden 2 was still in the cards: “The Observer”, proposed as the second season finale, sounds like it might have been meant as the story of Eden 2 deciding to ally itself with Captain Power.

Unfortunately, we never got our second season, much less a third, and Eden 2 vanishes from the story after this episode. This isn’t just a missed opportunity; it actually casts the entire thing in a completely different light. Imagine for a second that I hadn’t just spent a paragraph telling you what the bible says that Eden 2 is all about, and tell me what your first reaction is to this capsule summary: There’s a highly secret human enclave with a portentous name, rumored to be a paradise where people can live in peace and safety. They’re mysterious and vague about their location, intentions, and capabilities. They want to meet Captain Power, and insist on having the meeting in an extremely dangerous place.

Hell yeah it sounds like a trap. I mean, it doesn’t just sound like a trap. It sounds like the plot of “And Study War No More“. Even if they hadn’t already done that one a few weeks ago, the whole thing stinks so bad of “trap” that I think even comparatively unsophisticated viewers are going to waste most of the episode waiting for the other shoe to drop. But what makes this episode all the more disappointing is that, if you do waste most of the episode waiting for the other shoe to drop, sure, you’ll be disappointed when it doesn’t, but you won’t actually miss much. The sum total of what happens in this episode boils down to this spoiler: Yes, Virginia Captain Power, there is an Eden 2, and no, they are not going to make themselves relevant in the near future.

So that’s a bit of an anticlimax. It’s not altogether a worthless episode, mind you; there are some nice bits. But they’re largely incidental to the plot. I’ve been trying to make sense of the chronology a bit. No matter how you slice it, it just doesn’t quite work. Based on the in-episode dates, “The Ferryman” should be the third episode, occurring between Pariah and “A Fire in the Dark”. That would mean that for almost all the episodes which aired first, Blastarr exists, but Dread doesn’t think to involve him. This dating also places “And Study War No More” after “And Madness Shall Reign”. Okay. Not a flat-out contradiction, since they’re essentially finding out about Haven’s involvement in the Styx plot after the fact. But it’s very clear in “And Study War No More” that this is Blastarr’s first meeting with Captain Power, which just doesn’t hold water if he’s already appeared in both “The Intruder” and “Flame Street”. Besides, I would think that the “new human form” Dread is trying to design in “A Fire in the Dark” is meant to be a reference to Blastarr, which doesn’t make a lick of sense if it takes place a week afterward. Furthermore, Lord Dread’s characterization is all over the place in this ordering. Originally meant to be a major part of his character, Dread’s obsession with finding the location of the Power Base comes up in “The Intruder”, “Flame Street”, “A Summoning of Thunder”, and “Retribution”. As aired, it feels like a building obsession starting around the middle of the season. In calendar order, it’s more spread out, perhaps closer to the original intention of it being Dread’s long-time goal, but giving the impression that he more or less thinks of it every couple of months then promptly forgets to pursue it for a bit. If you wanted to suggest Dread is schizophrenic, the calendar order helps you out in other ways. The episodes where Dread comes off as vaguely sympathetic or regretful are kind of distributed at random through the season with “Flame Street” as the last of them, rather than clustering around the middle. Dread’s next major plan after deliberately letting Cap escape from his father’s grave is to… Send out a copycat in an ersatz Power Suit (“Final Stand” and “The Abyss” take place in the middle, but neither involve Dread actually making active plans, just reacting to others). Admittedly, it does make sense that Cap cites his dad’s oath against taking human life when he fights Jason if he’s only just recently been thinking about him. Though there’s a lovely bit of irony in having Cap make that citation two episodes after we watched his dad try to murder someone with his bare hands. On balance, the aired order just makes more sense for Dread as a character. We see him in the middle of the season suffer a crisis of conscience (Aside from Blastarr’s presence, “Flame Street” would actually make more sense as the first of these episodes, were it set before “A Fire in the Dark”. Rattled by his experience in the cyberweb, he seeks out an artist to reassure himself that his “utopia” will be more beautiful than the blighted wasteland he’s created), which he eventually resolves by doubling down at the end of the season. We’ll see Dread become increasingly ruthless and increasingly obsessed with Cap’s defeat starting this episode, which makes a lot of sense if you interpret him leaving the music box at Stuart’s grave as him finally leaving behind the last piece of humanity he’d been holding on to.

I think it may not be wise to read too much into those stardates after all. Increasingly, I think they reflect a tentative ordering, and when they realized that Blastarr wouldn’t be ready for the first block of episodes, it was still early enough in the process that substantial story elements could be retooled to generate the ordering we eventually saw on the air, though, for reasons that completely elude me, too late to change the date stamps. No, this episode was clearly trading on the notion of being a Big Old Part of the Series Mythology, and hoping that (And bringing their A-game on the visual effects) would make up for the fact that there’s not much in the way of plot.

Doctor Who alum Lorne Cossette returns as Colonel Cypher, led blindfolded into the Power Base — this is the first intentional guest they’ve had since A Fire in the Dark, so it’s our first chance to see their security measures. Which mostly consist of the blindfold and being kind of snippy. He seems to have recovered fully since “And Madness Shall Reign“, but Captain Power’s team all seem kind of bitter and dismissive toward him. The last time we saw him, Cap treated the old soldier with respect and concern, even though he was, at the moment, literally stark-raving. Here, they mostly seem annoyed that he’s insisted on meeting with them in person. He’ll appear again in next week’s “Freedom One”, and I’m curious how their relationship will be presented then. This pair of episodes is backwards chronologically: by its stardate, “Freedom One” should be set about two weeks after “And Madness Shall Reign”, so this is really Captain Power’s last encounter with Cypher.

Captain Power’s team seems somewhere between bemused and annoyed when Cypher explains that he’s here because of Eden 2. They’ve heard of it, yes, but had dismissed it as a myth. When Cypher claims to be part of an “underground railroad” smuggling refugees to Eden 2, they’re highly skeptical. According to Cypher, he’s been entrusted with one of the links in a highly secret chain leading to Eden 2. Eden 2 is so advanced they’ve already got Tor, you see, so the titular “Eden Road” consists of a bunch of pit-stops, with only one person at each location who knows only the location of the next node, so that no one outside of Eden knows the whole route.

Lorne Cossette in Captain Power

Dread, apparently by dumb luck, took out a node adjacent to Cypher’s, as revealed by a recording of a fight scene from earlier in the season on a floppy disk Cypher provides. For no clear reason, the Edenites want Captain Power to take delivery personally of a data crystal giving the replacement route. This sounds so much like a trap that even Captain Power and his gang are suspiciousCaptain Power: Peter MacNeill as Hawk, but they decide it’s at least worth investigating when Cypher presents an autographed Wardog patchCaptain Power - Wardogs Patch as proof of his claims.

Cypher’s Eden 2 contact has requested to meet Captain Power in the really really unfortunately named “Darktown”. “Darktown” had been subject to “proton bombardments” back in the last war, and rendered uninhabitable. Pretty much, Straczynski clearly wrote this setting as a nuclear fallout zone, filing the serial numbers off because, as we learned from the comic book (and is emphatically reinforced in the series bible), 2147 is a strictly nuclear-free zone. Darktown is polluted with a permanent “acid mist” that is not only deadly to organic life, but also causes biomechs to malfunction and eventually break down. Even the Power Suits only offer limited protection.

Captain Power - Darktown Flyby

Our first view of Darkdown is a flyby from the Jumpship. It’s a really nice model shot of a ruined city, undermined somewhat by the presence of “acid pits” that are pretty much strobing yellow blotches added clumsily in post. For absolutely no discernible reason, Lord Dread has stationed a heavy Biomech presence here, despite the fact that his troops keep going rogue due to the acid mist, because, obviously, he’s got to guard the place so that people don’t… sneak around there and die from the acid mist. Captain Power and Pilot both wear extra face-shields to protect the bits of their faces not covered by their smaller helmets, and begin to sneak their way to the rendevous site. Captain Power: The Eden RoadIn order to disable a force-field (which Dread has put up to stop any of the people who can’t survive here from sneaking further into Darktown to find the uninhabitable ruins with nothing of value inside them), Scout is called on to pull his usual trick of impersonating a clicker.

Due to the acid mist, though, his octocamo glitches and fails while he’s working. This wouldn’t be a problem, since the only mech nearby is steadfastly looking in the opposite direction. But the third or fourth time this happens, Cap realizes that this would be a great chance to get in one of their contractually obligated fight scenes, and starts shouting. The team is able to take out the nearby mechs without too much trouble, and make their way further into the city, hoping that the damage they’ve done will be attributed to a rogue mech.

Of course, they’ll have no such luck, because that would make for a boring episode. And this episode is already kind of thin on plot to begin with. Captain Power: The Eden RoadBack at Volcania, Lord Dread and his Bling Nazis are compiling maps showing Captain Power sightings. One look at the map convinces Dread that it’s impossible for Cap to have traveled those distances in such a short time, and therefore he must have an army of helpers who travel the country in Captain Power Halloween costumes to set up false trails to confuse the enemy matter teleportation technology.

Up until the previous two-parter, the most they’d ever said about the jumpgates was that they existed, and now, two stories in a row have gone out of their way to talk about the fact that Cap has a personal wormhole network. Now, I know why they’re building this up at this point, because I’ve already watched the entire season. But this must have been very strange for the original audience back in 1988 to suddenly have these little plot-diversions to talk about matter teleportation, especially in light of it being 1988, when “foreshadowing something for later in the season” was not a very common action-adventure trope. A very long time ago, I took issue with how random this whole “Oh, and also they have a wormhole network,” thing feels, in that it’s not really a technology that seems to have anything at all to do with any of the other technology in the show. It’s clearly not there to justify Captain Power’s ability to travel over large distances, since geography makes so little sense in this show that it doesn’t really matter. Besides, Hawk could fly from Colorado Springs to Detroit in nine minutes without the jump gates. That is about 33 times faster than traveling by commercial jet (And 126 times faster than driving up I-80 to I-94, if you’re keeping score).

Which, of course, is a whole separate issue, because in every damned episode, wherever Cap and Company are going, Blastarr or Soaron is only about an hour away. If it’s impossible for Captain Power to cover that much ground, surely the same could be said for the BioDreads, and yet there they are, week after week. For example, Blastarr is only about ten minutes’ walk from Darktown right now.

Which is handy, because a report comes in of some fighting in Darktown, and of course, every single thing that happens anywhere on the planet is immediately reported directly to Lord Dread. Though the reporting Bling Nazi theorizes it’s probably just a mech going rogue, Dread has the advantage of having read the script, and quickly concludes that it must be Power. He immediately dispatches Blastarr to lead counterattack.

He’ll come to reconsider this a few scenes on, though; even Blastarr is not immune to the “acid mist” and begins to have trouble speaking and thinking clearly.Captain Power: Blastarr Dread claims that Soaron had no such trouble, and attributes Blastarr’s weakness to Cap’s interference with the birthing process. The scene is a little uncomfortable. My ancient memories of this show don’t include Dread ever being particularly critical of Blastarr; I always thought that once Blastarr had come along, it was Soaron who got treated like the unwanted child — that was a big part of my perception that Soaron might eventually mutiny. But here… Frankly, it kinda seems like Dread is negging Blastarr. Deliberately playing on the sibling rivalry. If that’s what’s afoot, it works, because Blastarr demands to be allowed to finish the mission in spite of his difficulties.

Meanwhile, Cap and Company have arrived at the rendevous spot, a small shack whose interior is mysteriously well-lit and free of acid. A fair-featured boyishly handsome man (Of course it is. Ever notice how the representatives from otherworldly utopian civilizations is pretty much always an aryan poster boy? Always white, always male, always blonde.) in sparkly future-wear greets them and entreats them to take off their masks and Power Suits, as he’s rendered the environment safe using his fancy Eden 2 powers. They remove their masks, but, unlike all those other episodes where they’re always powering down the second they don’t have a BioDread in line-of-sight, they opt to stay armored, just in case. And if this didn’t already feel like a big old trap, the emissary also shows off his shiny acid-heat-cold-and-blaster-proof coat, which he suggests Cap and his friends will get as part of their welcome gift basket when they come to Eden 2 in person. Hawk notes that it’s the first technological development anyone but Dread has made in years. Captain Power: Brent Stait as JohnJohn is played by Brent Stait, a regular fixture in Toronto and Vancouver productions. He’s appeared in The X-FilesStargate SG-1, Smallville and Supernatural, but his biggest role was as Rev Bem in Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. The emissary, John, assures everyone that he’s on the level, and he assures Hawk that Vi is happy and safe, and he assures Captain Power that they’re trying to help, and he doesn’t even pull the traditional Highly Advanced Culture That Meets Our Heroes stunt SG-1 is so proud of where they’re all like “We totes like you guys, but we’re all advanced and Prime Directivey and won’t involve ourselves in your war or give you weapons or advanced technology, and kind of think you’re a bunch of savages for not being able to resolve this diplomatically.”

In other words, they act exactly like the traditional Seemingly Highly Advanced Culture that Secretly Plans to Enslave And/Or Cook Our Heroes and Eat Them that SG-1 is so proud of (See also, The Aschen, The Visitors, The Quar’to, the Taelons, and those guys from The Twilight Zone with the cookbook). However, the other shoe, as previously mentioned, never drops. Captain Power: BlastarrInstead, the increasingly erratic Blastarr shows up and starts shooting up the place. The emissary decides to leg it, but not before passing Cap a fist-sized chunk of pink quartz that’s allegedly a “data crystal” containing the new Eden Road node location and a Mysterious Package that totally isn’t a trap.

Captain Power and the others go outside and fight Blastarr, only not really, because Blastarr completely loses it and starts just shooting at random, taking out his own forces. So much chaos ensues that the shot which finally disables Blastarr isn’t from our heroes; it’s one of the pink pew-pews from a BioMech gunCaptain Power: Blastarr.

Blastarr’s scenes aren’t much different than everything else we’ve seen of him, but, like Soaron last week, it does seem like the quality of his animation has improved. When he collapses at the end of the fight, it’s new footage, not a recycle of the same sixty frames of him falling to his knees they used in “Justice”, “Flame Street” and “The Intruder”. There’s more small motions to him, changes in the way he turns his arms or the articulation of his torso. It’s a pity we’re getting so close to the end of the season, because it really does seem like they’re starting to get a handle on doing the CGI elements properly.Captain Power: Blastarr Animation

Back at the Power Base, Cap opens his package the box from Eden 2, triggering a thermonuclear explosion which wipes out our heroes, a tragic end to the series on par with the last episode of Blake’s 7, and finds an orange. Everyone gasps at the first piece of fresh fruit anyone’s seen in years. Captain Power: OrangesHe passes around segments, and Hawk declares that he can tell from its taste that this is no hydroponic orange, but one that grew in soil. Given that oranges grow on trees, so even non-hydroponic ones don’t actually come into contact with dirt, I am not sure how he deduced this. Everyone enjoys a light moment appreciating this proof that Eden 2 is real and on-the-level, and surely in the days and weeks to come, it will….

Never be mentioned again. Grr. Every time something actually interesting comes up in this show, it’s never mentioned again. Meanwhile, this whole matter teleportation angle actually is building up to something, yet it’s a weird, offhand element of the world background that feels tacked-on. It’s just disappointing. Another episode for the “skip if you’re in a hurry” bin.

And that’s too bad. Visually, this episode is fine. Everyone gets something to do, a few meaningful lines. The action sequences are fantastic. But the plot is effectively absent, and what narrative beats are actually there are all wrong. The whole story uses the plot beats from an “Seemingly idylic enclave is secretly evil” story. The desperate and dispossessed flock to Eden and are never seen again. Through an unlikely coincidence Dread disrupts their underground railroad and now they’ll only reveal the new route to Captain Power in person in the most dangerous place on Earth while Dread’s forces surround them, and they back up their claims by giving Hawk the one secret token that might trick him into letting his guard down? I’ve seen this episode so many times. Heck, I’ve seen this episode of Captain Power. Not only is the setup similar in key ways to “And Study War No More“, I think there’s also elements of similarity to “The Room” (Not that one), one of the cut episodes from earlier in the season that would have seen Cap infiltrate a purported underground railroad taking refugees to safety and uncover the dark secrets therein.

So taken on its own, this episode just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Honestly, even taken as the first half of a two-parter, it’s deeply weird, unless the second half is “The leadership of Eden 2 turns out to be evil reptiloids.”  Maybe if they’d sold it better, it could have worked: after Haven and The Room, the audience is primed to expect a trap, so you could play off, “No, really, this time, it’s legit,” as a twist. But they don’t quite manage it. For it to really work, you’d want Captain Power and his gang leave the rendezvous under the assumption that they’d been set up, only to have the orange lead to the revelation that Eden 2 is on the level. You’d have to make this explicit. Have Cap (Or better, Scout) reflect that it’s just like Haven. Maybe one of them reflects on there being a “snake” in this “Eden” (Either Tank, who we’d previously established as having some knowledge of scripture, or Pilot, to give her some character growth by implying that the experience at Haven had prompted her to learn about it). They take the box back to the base and have Tank open it in full armor in a protected vault or something, assuming it’s a bomb. Have Hawk fret over what this means for Vi. Tank opens the box and they find an orange, have the light moment, then say outright that this means the emissary was telling the truth and Eden 2 is real.

As it stands, while this episode should be tantalizing in how it seems to imply something about the future of this world, it ends up just feeling like they got to the end of the episode without remembering to have the end of their plot actually happen.

Oh, and also, Captain Power throws a BioMech into an acid pit.

Captain Power: The Eden Road; Captain Power throws a mech into an acid pit

That is all.


Or is it…

Shout-out time: I just discovered The Super-Saturday Short-Lived Showcase, which is also working its way through Captain Power. Due to my Generation X work-ethic, they’ve basically caught up with me by now, and they appear to number their readers in positive numbers, unlike me, so they hardly need me schilling for them, but on the off chance you happen to read my work and think, “I’d really like to hear someone else also say clever things about Captain Power”, please, check them out.

January 19, 2015

A Tale of Two Robots

By Dylan

Once upon a time, there was a poor old man who had a lot of apples. One day, he said, “I should make a robot out of applesauce!” So he made a really, really tall robot out of applesauce. And the robot could talk.

Now, the man who made the robot out of applesauce was the same person who had once made a robot out of chicken nuggets. And the robots said “We should build a house,” so they built a house. But there was a beanstalk next to the house, so the robot made out of chicken nuggets climbed up the beanstalk and met a bad giant made out pizza. But the pizza giant fell down because it was too heavy!

So the robot made out of applesauce punched the beanstalk down. And then he needed to go to his home, so he flew off. And then he punched down another beanstalk (there were a lot of beanstalks).

There was another robot made out of chicken nuggets. And the robot made out of applesauce said to the other robot made out of chicken nuggets, “You’re my sister!” And the (first) Chicken Nugget Robot said, “You’re my sister too.” (There was another applesauce robot too, but I think he was their cousin)

So the man said, “We should all go to the applesauce robot’s home.” And the applesauce robot said, “Yes, we should all go to my home,” so they flew off (For applesauce robots can float in the air, but can’t walk).

 

January 14, 2015

Deep Ice: One outside Buffalo, one in Chicago (Jeff Kaye’s War of the Worlds)

I’ll Explain Later…

It is October 31, 1968. I’ll get back to that in a few minutes. Since we’ve slipped back twenty years, we are, of course, talking once again about War of the Worlds. I’ll get back to Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future soon enough, but it’s a new year and I was traveling over the holidays, so I need something easier, and besides, I’m almost out of Captain Power and need to play for time so that I’ll have something else to write about when it’s done.

WWKB-AM 1520 is an ESPN Sports Radio broadcaster out of Buffalo, New York. But prior to 2013, it had been a progressive talk-radio station, before that an oldies station, before that, business talk radio, after sports, after country music, after “hot talk”. But long before that, before ABC was bought by Capital Cities and got out of the radio business, they were WKBW-AM, companion station to Buffalo’s ABC 7. The radio station, originally a religious station (WKBW, later appropriated as “The King of Buffalo”, originally stood for “Well Known Bible Witness”), predated the TV station, but with the arrival of TV and the waning of the golden age of radio, it transitioned into the more modern “top 40″ format in the late ’50s, until FM radio pretty much put an end to AM top 40 stations in the late ’70s. During those years, WKBW was one of the power players in east coast pop radio — their high-power transmitter gave them a tremendous range, reportedly getting better reception in Boston than Boston’s own local top 40, was regularly received in Stockholm, and in 1967, a WKBW-exclusive Monkees performance was recorded off-air in Morocco, because mumble mumble ionosphere mumble mumble.

But the reason we care (well, the reason I care) is because in the ’60s, “KB Radio” was well-known for its Halloween specials. In 1968, program director Jefferson Kaye noticed that they were coming up on the thirtieth anniversary of the infamous Mercury Radio Theater production, and thought it would make a good subject for this year’s special. It had been done before, in 1944 in Santiago and 1949 in Quito. These were adaptations of the Howard Koch radioplay, adjusting the names, locations and current events to fit the locality. And that’s how Jeff Kaye’s version started out. But he had a problem: it was 1968, and KB Radio wasn’t in the business of making original drama. WKBW was a prominent station and its stable of talent at the time was certainly top-notch, but they were disk jockeys and news reporters, and that kind of acting just wasn’t their thing. Not to be deterred, Kaye decided to try something different. Something that sounds really risky to me, but it was a gamble that paid off.

They got rid of the script. Instead, Jeff Kaye and director/engineer Danny Kriegler produced an outline of the various events that would make up their Martian invasion, based on the events recounted in the 1938 version, and simply told their radio personalities to deliver it as though it were news. Which sounds on the surface ridiculous: take a bunch of people who aren’t trained as actors and have them do improv? And yet, somehow, miraculously, it works.

Dan Neaverth opens the show with a lengthy disclaimer, for all the good it will do, giving some background on the 1938 broadcast, and explaining how it was made, “With the techniques that were in use at that time,” and that they had therefore decided to approach it, “Not how we can copy it, but how it would be covered by a modern newsroom in this day and age.” He goes on to speak to the quasi-mythical “panic” that the 1938 broadcast generated, and how in those days, radio announcers held a “strange charisma”, that what, “A radio announcer said was true was. The same could be said for newspaper, the only other mass media at the time.” If you read my article on the 1938 War of the Worlds, you’ll know I have my misgivings about that interpretation of events, the way it casts the people of 1938 as credulous dupes like something out of that movie The Invention of Lying. But what Neaverth says next plays more to what I think is the truth of the 1938 panic: “WKBW radio has been promoting the show over the last three weeks, every hour 24 hours a day, you all know what is about to occur. This was not true when the original was broadcast. So place yourself in that position: sit back and pretend that you do not know what is going to happen. And perhaps at the end of this broadcast, you will begin to understand what took place thirty years ago tonight. This is Dan Neaverth speaking.”“So place yourself in that position: sit back and pretend that you do not know what is going to happen. And perhaps at the end of this broadcast, you will begin to understand what took place thirty years ago tonight.” Some lies aren’t meant to deceive; sometimes, it’s an invitation. Thirty years earlier, Orson Welles had invited the nation to come live in a world where the unstoppable invaders at the doorstep were from Mars. In 1968, WKBW invited listeners to try it again.

Joe Downey takes over for the eleven o’clock news. By which I mean, he actually delivers the real eleven o’clock news. So…

It is October 31, 1968. Yesterday, Soyuz 3 returned to Earth, its mission a partial failure after it proved unable to dock with Soyuz 2. Today, President Johnson has announced an end to bombing in North Vietnam“President Johnson has taken a big step on the road toward peace in Vietnam. Tonight, he ordered a total bombing halt in north Vietnam. Johnson also announced that the Paris talks will be expanded to include the Saigon government and the political arm of the Vietcong. Mister Johnson made it clear that productive talks can continue only if Hanoi respects the DMZ and commits to stop shelling South Vietnamese cities.” (The war scare was over), though the peace which seems forthcoming at the time falls through, possibly due to the intervention of presidential hopeful Dick Nixon, who didn’t want Johnson getting the credit for ending the Vietnam war. Davey Jones marries for the first time, to Dixie Linda Haines. The marriage will last until 1975. On TV tonight are new episodes of The Flying Nun, That Girl, Daniel Boone and Ironside. Tomorrow, dutifully marching toward the cancellation NBC has already predestined for it, Star Trek will air “Day of the Dove”, one of the more spectacular and iconic episodes of the third season, and the one that kinda invented the Klingons, since their appearance here is really the first time they act anything close to the characterization of their culture that would be carried forward into the post-TOS era. Here is what Josh Marsfelder has to say, in the hopes that after you’ve read it, you will come back and read this instead of going on with something more interesting in your life. In local news, Governor Nelson “Rocky” Rockefeller ceremonially broke ground on the construction of a six-hundred million dollar State University Of New York at Buffalo campus. (More men were back at work). A raid at a cab company in Lackawanna led to numerous gambling arrests, and then there’s Mars.

Downey reports, with no discernible change in tone from all the real news of the day, observations at the Mount Palomar Observatory of a series of explosions on Mars. “The observatory’s director, Dr. Benjamin Spencer, says that although they appear to have as much energy as hydrogen bomb blast, they are undoubtedly of natural origin. Dr. Spencer describe the explosions as looking like
(quote) Tremendous jets of blue flames shooting out into space (end quote).” The news report is bookended by incredibly condescending commercials for the Peace Corps, suggesting listeners come, “Build something. Like Latin America, Asia and Africa.” After the weather and another Peace Corps ad, Downey hands off to Sandy Beach.

Nowadays, Sandy Beach is a midday right-leaning talk host on Buffalo’s WBEN-AM 930. Back in the ’60s, he was WKBW’s nighttime DJ. The default mode of top-40 disk jockeying has evolved a lot since War of the Worlds, but I think a late ’60s nighttime DJ is pretty close to the platonic form of disk jockey. DJing was a lot more performative back in the 60s. A year or so ago, one of my local stations fired a long-time morning DJ, replacing him with a syndicated show that was fine, but never took off. But the frontman for the new show, early on, talked about the switch a little, and explained that the previous host was a very talented example of an older, more stylized kind of morning DJing, and that they thought that this market was looking for a more modern approach, That approach involved a lot of trying very hard to be “real”, while relating amusing anecdotes from their own lives and stories from social media, taking a lot of listener calls, and being really really judgmental (Seriously. Drive-time DJs are, as a class, possibly the most judgmental human beings imaginable. Though I’ll grant you, I might get a little judgy too if my job was to listen to callers’ stories. Protip: If you feel compelled to call a local radio station to set up an elaborate prank call to determine if your husband is cheating on you, it’s already time to call the lawyer). But here, back in the 60s, it’s much more about sounding really hip, really groovy, really with-it, and really stoned. It was the era of Doctor Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap and Wonderful WINO and even DJs who were not fictional, such as Wolfman Jack and Skinny Bobby Harper.

Sandy Beach starts off his show on “Kaybee Baybee” by speculating that the “blue flames” from Mars might be an impressive marketing stunt by the natural gas industry before playing “Eleanor” by The Turtles, this week’s #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 (Also in the top ten are “Midnight Confessions”, “Girl Watcher”, and “Harper Valley PTA”, and it kinda seems incomprehensible that all those songs happened at the same time. So too for Jimi Hendrix’s definitive cover of “All Along the Watchtower”, which is spending its last week on the chart at its peak position of #20). Sandy jokes about fortifying his house against trick-or-treaters, then plays a commercial for a local music store, which is selling 8-track players for $49.95, which is a lot of money back now, even if they do throw in the speakers for free.  I bring it up because the One Stop Tape Center of 1130 Main Street is one of the sponsors of War of the Worlds, as they explicitly tell us during the commercial, not that it is going to make a lick of difference. Sandy Beach has an announcement from NASA when he returns from commercial, cautioning space-watch facilities to expect unusual observations and communications difficulty, which he uses as the jumping-off point for a riff about Jeff Kaye’s inter-office memos.

That’s probably the first thing beyond the style that this new adaptation brings to the story over the 1938 broadcast. Keep in mind, that there was no such thing as a space program in 1938. There wasn’t even an Air Force (The Air Force would not become a separate branch from the Army until 1947, coincidentally, right around the time of the Roswell UFO incident…) There was no cold war to speak of. There was no such thing as a nuclear weapon. There wasn’t even such a thing as World War II. Here in 1968, it’s pretty much the height of the space age. I mean, it’s 1968. We’re less than a year from man walking on the moon. The Apollo Command Module has already done its first test flight. By 1938, the closest we’d come to space travel was when Balloonist Jeanette Piccard and her husband, Balloon-designer Jean Piccard (Yeah. His namesake) piloted the airship The Century of Progress to the stratosphere. In 1968, pretty much everyone on Earth who wasn’t too busy with the basic scrabble for mere existence was looking to the heavens, and for the first time in human history, the possibility of travel to one of those big round things in the sky was something scientifically plausible and eminent rather than speculative fiction.

Cream’s “White Room” (Number 15) is interrupted halfway through for a KB News special bulletin “KB Commuter Call: We have a condition red. All available firefighting equipment is rushing to Grand Island where an explosion has set off a series of fires. Traffic on the Grand Island bridges has been halted. All onlookers and motorists are asked to stay clear of the area.”. Sandy doesn’t react immediately to the bulletin, instead taking the piss out of fellow WKBW DJ Stan Roberts. A commercial clearly identifies this as a dramatization of War of the Worlds while advertising a sale on “monster shoes”, a then-popular wide-toed, clunky-heeled style at AM&A’s. After singing along to the KB Radio jingle, Sandy relays a request from the news department for listeners not to call in for information about the Mars explosions. I gather that the performance was prerecorded, so this was the folks at the studio anticipating rather than reacting. Sandy also makes a dig at newsman Henry Brock. I’m starting to get the feeling that most of Sandy Beach’s shtick is based around insulting his coworkers.

Right after the really good two and a half minutes of “Hey Jude“, this week’s Billboard #1, before the interminable 800 minutes of “Na na-na na-na-na na”s, KB Total News breaks in again to attribute the earlier fires on Grand Island to a meteor impact. “KB Total News Bulletin: It’s been reported that a large meteor has smashed into the ground along the East River Road on Grand Island setting off a series of fires. Several lives have been lost. KB Total News director Don Lancer on the way to the scene. Repeating: A large meteor is reported to have smashed into the ground on Grand Island, killing several people and touching off a series of fires. This has been a KB Total News Bulletin. Full details at KB Total News straight down the line on the half-hour” They’re going to spend a lot of time on the fire. I imagine that part was easier for them to perform, since, y’know, WKBW’s news reporters had probably covered those before. Unlike in 1938, this version of the story puts the initial meteor strike in a populated area. I think this is the only adaptation that makes that decision, and, again, qualifying it with the fact that they keep broadcasting disclaimers, I think that’s one of the things that sells this version. They manage to escalate the tension before introducing the fantastical elements. If you were actually seriously trying to hoax people, this is how you’d do it: you’re already tense and already invested. You’re not in the mental mode to go, “Oh, this is just a dramatic presentation” because you’ve already started accepting what you’re hearing as true before you had to make the big commitment to believe in an alien invasion.

Another commercial for “Monster Shoes” is told in the form of a Halloween narrative, about a witch cursing some shoes, only to have her plot foiled when the misshapen shoes proved popular with the teens. Sandy Beach asks listeners to neither drive out to Grand Island nor call the WKBW newsroom. Before he can play another record, newsman Henry Brock repeats pretty much the same news we just heard, and while Sandy gets a chance to let Buffy St. Marie sing a few bars of “I’m gonna be a country girl again,” (which didn’t chart until 1971, and even then, only broke the top 40 in the UK) before Don Lancer, who is stuck in traffic, calls in from the field.

Jeff Kaye opens up the WKBW news room, and Sandy Beach gives one last recap of the story before tossing to the newsroom. Even the formidable KB Total News Theme Song doesn’t buy Jeff enough time to get everyone set up in the newsroom, and he’s left having to tell Joe Downey on-the-air that his microphone is hot. Downey reminds us of the what and where, adding the new information that telephones to Grand Island are down and other communications are poor. Henry Brock is trying to get a report from the Sheriff’s office — Downey actually interrupts himself to ask Henry if he’s gotten through yet. He hasn’t, and Downey is left pretty much just stalling until he does. The deputy they finally get hold of confirms multiple deaths and fires, but can’t confirm a body count. He mentions a military presence on the scene, confirms three power outages, but can’t speak to looting. In a weird technicality, Joe Downey wasn’t able to hear the report from the Sheriff’s office, and has to ask Brock for a recap.

Before he gets very far, though, Jim Fagan calls in from the field. He’d been interviewing a Dr. Moore from Niagra University about the Martian explosions, and conscripted him to come have a look at the meteor. That would make Moore and Fagan this production’s equivalents of Carl Phillips and Professor Pierson, though the roles are considerably different here. Moore is a lot closer to Oglvy from the original book, and the reporter’s role is spread out across the whole KB News team.

Doctor Moore is a bit of an odd character. In his very first line, he seems oddly fixated on Fagan’s choice of words, and wants to make sure to clarify that the explosions on Mars could not possibly be hydrogen bombs (Fagan had called it a “Hydrogen bomb-intensity explosion”). He denies that the impact on Grand Island could be an “extraterrestrial body”, theorizing instead that it is a meteor. Fagan: Doctor Moore, can you tell us if that was an extraterrestrial body that landed on the island?

Moore: I would think not, sir, at the moment. As I say, I have not as yet seen what has happened on the island. We’re going to be getting there in a few minutes, but certainly, it’s possible. But I would doubt it. That would be just my candid opinion before I have seen it.
That’s kind of weird and awkward, firstly because if comes off like Moore thinks meteors are terrestrial in origin, and secondly because his denial is kind of limp — no “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one,” rather a kind of cautious reluctance to commit. He’s also a bit cautious about pronouncing it a meteor, though he does consider it likely, as, “There are many meteors that have landed on various parts of the Earth in the past many years.”

Moore is far and away the worst part of this so far, offering really only one useful comment (he proposes that it might actually be multiple meteors given the scope of the damage). But before you judge too harshly, consider the context. In the scope of this presentation, I think you can redeem the Moore character by interpreting him as a professor who is crap at giving interviews.  It would have sold it, in my opinion, if Fagan had expressed some chagrin at Moore’s fumbling, though that probably would have seemed unprofessional.

Hank and Jim exchange traffic information from their respective locations on the East River Road and the Robert Moses Expressway south of Niagra Falls. Unconfirmed reports claim Governor Rockefeller has mobilized the national guard. Irv Weinstein, news director at WKBW’s  TV counterpart and coiner of the phrase “It’s eleven o’clock. Do you know where your children are?”, wants to coordinate the TV news team and commandeers Henry Brock’s newscast for a moment, by which time Don Lancer has finally made it to the crash site.

Lancer interviews a lineman, who reports power outages on streets that suggest that the impact site is right around here, though Jim Fagan, having approached from the other direction, sees leveled houses from two and a half miles away on Whitehaven Road. Fagan is close enough to see the crater, while Don Lancer manages to get a look inside it. Here, about thirty-six minutes into the broadcast, is where things finally take the turn we’ve been waiting for: It’s not a meteor. “It’s not– It’s not a meteor, Henry. I’m standing on the edge of the crater, and I can look right down into it. There’s clouds of white-hot steam rising from the face of what looks like some kind of metallic cylindrical object. It’s a very large object that’s lying in the bottom of this crater. Thus far, there’s been no one around that I’ve been able to talk to to find out what it might be. It’s hot. Intense heat around this crater at the present moment, and I just don’t — I can’t describe it all that well.” There’s a sort of two-tone high-pitched whine coming from the crater too, and boy do I wish there weren’t, because it’s awful to listen to and makes the dialogue hard to make out. Don’s signal crackles and drops out suddenly just as he’s being yelled at by the authorities to move back.

As they struggle to get hold of Don or Jim, you can hear some desperation from the newsroom, and Jeff Kaye, in the background, orders them to play a commercial to cover the lack of information. It’s the eight-track player again, along with another disclaimer no one is listening to. Jim Fagan, at the opposite side of the crater, reports having seen Don Lancer lose his footing and fall into the crater, though he doesn’t seem badly hurt. Since this is 1968 and not 1938, Henry Brock posits the obvious hypothesis that the thing in the crater is space debris — again history rears its head, because, as I mentioned, a Soyuz capsule literally just returned to Earth. The fact that it bears no markings, appears to be intact, and is making that terrible sound weighs against that idea, but no one’s sure.

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