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428 – Planet of the Apes

For our tenth year podcasting, we’re featuring a series of special episodes looking at some of our favorite sci-fi movies.  First up: Planet of the Apes.

Movie Synopsis: 

A spacecraft from Earth plows through space at near light speed. Alone in the cockpit, George Taylor muses about the world he’s left behind forever and the future of mankind.  At their current speed, centuries have passed on Earth in what has been only six months to them.    Everything he knows is gone to dust, but does man still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbor’s children starving?  He joins the remainder of his crew in suspended animation.

They awaken when the ship crashes in a lake on desolate world.  Only three of the crew have survived and they escape the sinking craft to reach the shore.  It isn’t promising, it seems a desolate, uncompromising world and they have but three days of rations.

After a long trek, they encounter lush fields and primitive, mute humans.  When they are attacked by gun-wielding, horse riding gorillas, Taylor is separated from the others, shot in the throat and captured.  Unable to speak, he tries to convey his intelligence to Dr. Zira, a Chimpanzee scientist on animal behavior.

Trapped in a world upside down, Taylor makes friends with Zira and her fiancé Cornelius and also begins to learn that the Minister of Science, an orangutan name Dr. Zaius has a particular interest in him.  When he attempts to escape to avoid castration, Taylor manages to regain his voice and shocks the apes with his ability to speak.

Brought before a tribunal of the ruling Orangutans, Taylor is unable to convince them he is from outer space.  The fate of the other astronauts is made known to him.  One had been killed in the raid that captured Taylor, the other was lobotomized and is now a vegetable.  With no corroboration, Taylor has no hope, and the orangutans make a show of demonstrating that Taylor isn’t really a reasoning, intelligent creature.  Zira and Cornelius try to make a case that Taylor is a missing link between apes and humans, who must be their primitive ancestors.  This is scientific heresy and they are indicted on charges.

Zaius talks privately with Taylor.  In private, it’s clear Zaius understands Taylor’s intelligence is real and knows something more, but he believes Taylor to be from a tribe of advanced humans somewhere on the other side of the Forbidden Zone.  If Taylor will just confess and give over the info on his tribe, they won’t cut off his nuts and lobotomize him.

That night, now fugitives from the law, Zira and Cornelius spring Taylor from his cage and they escape to the Forbidden Zone.  There, Cornelius, an archaeologist, had previously found the remains of an ancient civilization.  When they arrive at the dig, Zaius and his gorilla soldiers aren’t far behind.  Taking Zaius hostage, Taylor forces him to give Cornelius the opportunity to present his evidence.

What Cornelius has found is all too familiar to Taylor:  Eyeglasses, dentures and an artificial heart valve.  Zaius dismisses Taylor’s explanations, but he cannot dismiss the talking human doll.  Trussed up, Zaius reveals to Taylor that he knew man came first and that he was an evil, destructive creature who destroyed himself and turned a paradise into the Forbidden Zone.

Taylor leaves and heads further into the Forbidden Zone – a free man searching for answers.  He finds them when he comes across the ancient ruins of the Statute of Liberty.  The Planet of the Apes is Earth.  Taylor has been home all along.

414 – The Norliss Tapes

David Norliss, disbeliever, investigates the supernatural to debunk it.  What he finds challenges his understanding of reality.

Simon and Eugene discuss the 1973 planned pilot movie, The Norliss Tapes, with some strong ties to Dan Curtis’ Night Stalker and Night Strangler movies.

Episode Synopsis:

David Norliss is a recognized-name author.  He’s been working on an advance from his publisher to write a new book debunking the supernatural.

His publisher is distressed when Norliss calls hims and says, “I can’t write the book.  I need to talk to you – now.”  But when Norliss misses the meeting, his publisher starts to worry.  And worry he should; Norliss has gone missing.  The only clue to his disappearance:  The cassette tape notes that he’s left behind.  His publisher starts with tape #1.

It recounts a prologue to Norliss’ adventures – how he started researching and debunking the frauds that prey on the gullible who believe in the supernatural, but then he’s approached by Mrs. Ellen Cort, recent widow of the wealthy and famous artist, James Cort, who died of natural causes.

She’s sought out Norliss because her sister is a friend of Norliss and mentioned his research into the supernatural.

Recently, late at night, while living alone in the giant mansion left to her by her late husband, her dog goes nuts and leads her to her late husband’s studio. There, a zombified version of her husband tries to kill her, but she narrowly escapes.  The Sheriff, although taking the crime seriously, doesn’t believe the more fantastical elements of the story.

Norliss decides to investigate.  He learns that Cort was struck with a rare, debilitating and fatal brain disease, after which he became entangled with Madam Jeckiel, a proponent of the supernatural, and that, in exchange for some unknown promise, he was given an antique ring, the Ring of Osiris, which he never took off and specifically left instructions in his will that he be buried wearing.  He verifies that Cort’s body (and the ring) are still in the family crypt.

And then the murders start.  The Cort zombie kills a young woman and drains her body of blood.  The local sheriff investigates, but tries to keep a lid on the more fantastical elements of the story – this being the same sheriff who didn’t wholly believe Mrs. Cort’s story, either.

Norliss interviews Langdon, the gallery owner who worked with Cort; who has shown a marked interest in the ring and also introduced Cort to Madam Jeckiel.  Legend has it that the ring is Egyptian and is the symbol of immortality.  While Langdon reveals nothing useful to Norliss, Norliss lets him know he’ll never get the ring because it was interred with Cort.

Soon, Langdon tries to steal the ring from the crypt, but is killed by Cort.

Norliss visits Madam Jeckiel who is also unhelpful, but warns him and Mrs Cort away from the mansion.  It is the house of Sargoth now.

Returning to the studio, because Norliss is convinced that is the key to this mystery, they find a new statue, a work in progress, with fresh clay nearby – and then they are attacked by Cort.  Once again, they barely escape, this time Cort demonstrates his incredible strength by ripping the door of the car off.

The sheriff investigates but he dismisses the more fantastical elements of the story – even after they discover Cort’s body is no longer in the crypt.

Ellen’s sister returns from her trip and goes to visit her sister, unaware that the mansion is now vacant.  Unable to get in, she stops at a nearby hotel for the night.  Soon, Cort breaks in, kills her and takes her body.

Norliss has been researching and has discovered a series of prohibition-era tunnels under the estate connecting the studio and the crypt, and had he the clay analyzed and learned it is 40% human blood.  He also conducts some chemistry experiments of his own, but that’s for later.

Meanwhile Madam Jeckiel visits Ellen Cort and confess that she had been used by the powers of darkness; that Cort made a deal – after he died, he would come back to life and make a statute that the demon Sargoth would transform into a new body, and then grant Cort eternal life upon success.

If they can just find the body and remove the ring before sunset, it will all end.  They go to the mansion despite it almost being sundown and without Norliss, and discover the tunnel, the missing dead bodies and Cort, who kills Madam Jeckiel but lets Ellen go free.

Norliss arrives with a plan:  Let Cort finish the statute.  He will surround it with a circle of blood and when Sargoth comes to life, will set the blood on fire – which is an impenetrable barrier for supernatural beings.  The plan works and the studio is burned down. 

The charred body of Cort, but not Sargoth is found.

There is no answer to the disappearance of David Norliss on tape 1.  Perhaps on tape 2? 

His publisher begins to listen.

Shin Godzilla – A Fusion Patrol Review

The Godzilla franchise has bounced back and forth from artistic allegorical work, to mindless child-pleasing monster battles.  

Sometimes villain, sometimes anti-hero, sometimes hero – you never really know what the next Godzilla film holds in store.

In 2016’s Shin Godzilla, the entire Godzilla canon is jettisoned in favor of a completely new start.  The film presents us with a rapidly-evolving, radioactive, aquatic creature that starts causing havoc in the waters around Tokyo.  The destruction ramps up as soon the creature becomes amphibious and makes landfall and later finally becomes a variation of the Godzilla we all know and love.

Shin Godzilla seems to be a love it or hate it film, with some of the criticism of this film being aimed at the emphasis on the response to the emergency rather than the battle against Godzilla itself, and the therefore relatively little screen time the Big G gets.  

It’s definitely here that I part ways with those critics.   I immensely enjoyed this film and am firmly in the love-it camp.

Half the fun of this film is the satire of Japanese politics and culture.  The meetings, followed by more meetings, side meetings and  even sub-meetings, ad infinitum; the need to change uniforms or meetings rooms to observe the correct protocol; the irony that the Japanese can, at the drop of a hat, form teams and new government units to increase the bureaucracy to look at the problem, but are completely unable to form an actionable plan in response to the problem; the legal wrangling over the wording of the country’s constitution as to whether they’re legally allowed to do anything at all; the catastrophic loss of life and property because of their risk-adverse policies; and finally the comical reliance and formality of routing all decisions through the Prime Minister.  

These all present laugh out loud moments if you can see the film for what it is – a solid return to the allegorical roots of the Godzilla franchise.

While the original Godzilla film was about the horror of the atomic bomb, in this film, Godzilla is rather more an allegory for the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the resulting Fukushima nuclear disaster, and Japan’s inefficiencies at responding to these disasters.

All of this satire squarely hits the mark and I can only imagine it even more effective domestically.

At the other end of the spectrum, the film also has its thoughts on the United States.  The criticisms of the US are largely a reverse of the ones leveled at Japan.  The US is a unilateral, risk-taking, quick to act, poor team player that bullies the UN to get their own way and is not at all shy about dropping a nuclear bomb on Tokyo.

It’s somewhat rare and refreshing that the film manages to portray their actions at opposite ends of the spectrum and still manages to make it clear that neither are desirable modes of operation.  

Moderation between the extremes – what a concept!

While these are completely fair criticisms of the United States, because the Americans are, for the most part, not actually in the film, the satire directed at them is less well realized, coming as it does in announcements of what the Americans are doing rather than direct action.  That is no doubt intended to show that the Americans as aloof, distant and expecting of Japan to hang on their every word, but it just doesn’t work quite as well in my mind.

But what about the King of Monsters himself?  At the risk of sounding like a film school student,  the Big G is more symbolic than in any prior Godzilla film.  In this new version, Godzilla starts out unrecognizable and has one completely unique and new ability not present in the prior films:  this Godzilla adapts incredibly rapidly to any change in conditions or threat.  It makes him the exact counter-point to the Japanese responders’ inability to be flexible and adapt to rapidly-changing conditions.  But it also means that the final form Godzilla achieves is a direct result of his adaptation to the humans he interacts with.  

Rendered in CGI, and constantly changing throughout the film, Godzilla looks different and it’s certainly not to everyone’s liking, but his massive rampages through the wards of Tokyo are impressively realized.  Long gone are the days of a man in a rubber suit crushing a model city.

In the end the film becomes rather like a Japanese Independence Day – when the battered but resilient Japanese implement a meticulous plan that requires both world-wide international cooperation in the scientific, manufacturing and military realms and it leads to Japan, with the military backing of the US, executing what stands as my absolute favorite military attack on Godzilla ever.  

In fact, one of my least favorite parts of many other Godzilla films is the ubiquitous “roll out the tanks, ships and planes and shoot impotently at Godzilla until he burns them to slag,” bit and while that does happen in this film, it’s a critical plot point and the humans learn from it, setting up the final confrontation.  A confrontation that had me cheering out loud as I watched.

I will say this:  I will never look at a bullet train the same way again.

Turning to the filmmaking.  This film is visually wonderful – from the sterility and utility of the many, many meetings rooms, to the visuals of the destruction wrought by Godzilla, the film looks great. For me, the culmination of the visuals is an epic realization of Godzilla’s first use of his atomic breath that stands above anything that’s come before in a Godzilla film.  I can’t say enough good things about the look of this film.

The film score is… odd.  It’s a bit schizophrenic.  The new material ranges from driving rhythmic drums, guitars and synths to operatic.  And then there is the liberal use of Akira Ifukube’s original Godzilla scores from the 50s and 60s – which is always welcome in a Godzilla film, but in this case, in addition to some new recordings of the material, the original recordings, with all their audio issues, are used.  The older recordings do jar a bit to the ear.

The film gives us a few hints at directions of a possible follow-up movie.  At one point a further disturbance is mentioned on an island, hinting at another monster, which is completely dismissed; the end credits prominently feature Rodan’s theme from a King Ghidora film; and in the final shot we get a hint of what Godzilla’s next evolved form might have been.  

Unfortunately, with the rights tied up, Toho is currently unable to start making any more Godzilla films until 2020 at the earliest and the current word is that they’re thinking of taking a different direction, something more akin to the Marvel Extended Universe.

Still, the film stands well on its own and if there are no more films in this Godzilla incarnation, it will remain a standout entry in the Godzilla series by itself.

Earth II – A Fusion Patrol Review

Earth II is a true speculative look at what a future space colony might look like; what ideals its people might espouse; and how it might interact politically with the Earth below.

This potential pilot movie, released in 1971 stars Gary Lockwood, Scott Hylands and Hari Rhodes as the command crew that originally founded Earth II and guest stars Tony Franciosa and Mariette Hartley as the newcomers, Frank and Lisa Karger.

The central premise of this story is that Earth II is an independent nation orbiting Earth with full United Nations membership.  Earth II is dedicated to peace.  They eschew all forms of weapons, even banning children’s toy guns (although not, apparently, a toy P-38 Lightning, bristling with guns.)

They are also governed by a system of direct democracy in which all 2,100 citizens of Earth II participate in discussion and direct voting on all major policy issues.

The drama begins when two things happen.  The first is that Frank Karger and his family, new immigrant citizens of Earth II, arrive.  Frank was instrumental in getting Earth II into orbit but he did not support it being an independent country and he still does not support its strict pacifist ways.

The second is that the Red Chinese place an illegal nuclear weapon in stationary orbit directly above Moscow.  Earth II comes within 150 miles of the weapon on each orbit.  It is a dangerous incursion of nuclear weapons in their backyard.

Tampering with the bomb would be an act of war.  Leaving it there would be a direct threat to the lives of everyone on Earth II.  With Frank Karger stirring up the population and agitating for taking direct action, can Earth II survive?

This film appears to be very much inspired by the almost hyper-realism of space exploration in Kubrik’s much-vaunted work, 2001: A Space Odyssey.  

It’s clear that the filmmakers are attempting to create a realistic portrayal of what life in space might be like.  The film touches on things such as both the complexities and advantages of zero gravity and even the nature of orbital mechanics is integral to the plot.

To say that the visual effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey were unparalleled in their day is almost an understatement.  Earth II; however, operating on a 1970s TV-movie budget, can only crudely ape Douglas Trumbull’s Academy Award-Winning visual effects, but it doesn’t really detract from the story.  There are only a few laughably-bad visual effects moments. 

Earth II is commonly confused with Gene Roddenberry’s contemporary pilots, Genesis II and Planet Earth, for a variety of reasons including the time they were made and the similarities of names, but not only is Earth II completely unrelated, it pre-dates both Roddenberry efforts, and it’s just much better science fiction.  

While Roddenberry used his tried-and-true Star Trek formula, presenting us with an “ideal” society of what we could be and then using alien civilizations and cultures as metaphors for the problems that present society needs to address, Earth II goes a more direct route.

Earth II explores the complications of people trying to build an ideal society while challenged by the very real shortcomings of humans who may fall short of that ideal.  Honestly, I’m quite surprised that this isn’t a cult hit show amongst the Trek haters who think the Trek-verse is too lily-white.

The movie looks at three major political areas in the framework of a new Utopian space colony, the first being simply, what does it mean to be a pacifist society?  How far must you go to remain pacifist? And at what point must you act to preserve those ideals?

The second deals with nuclear weaponry, and in no subtle way, creates a Cuban Missile Crisis parallel situation which brings the world to the brink of nuclear war.

For me; however, the most interesting piece of the program is their system of democracy.  I find what they’re trying to portray fascinating, but it raises so many questions that are not explored that I left the movie feeling unfulfilled and eager to see a second episode so that we could explore them more.  As we know, that second episode never came, so let me touch upon a few of those issues here.

Earth II presents a system, called a D&D (or Discussion and Decision) that can be called by any citizen if they wish to challenge or establish a policy position.  The citizen speaks on behalf of the initiative. Another citizen, presumably a spokesperson for the established station administration, speaks in opposition.  Like a trial, witnesses and experts can be called by either side and a small “random” population of citizens act as a discussion panel.

The discussions are held on the open video channel and all citizens are encouraged to watch and then, immediately after the discussion, vote the issue up or down.  Decisions are final and based on simple majority rule.  

Imagine if we had a democracy in which all citizens were engaged and involved or that whole swathes of our population weren’t marginalized or ignorant of the issues.  In this movie, we see that 92% of Earth II’s voters participated.  

Where is the other 8%?  Clearly, voting is not mandatory, nor is anyone given any time to “make-up” their vote if they don’t participate when the event is live.  In the one vote we see, the margin is so slim that 8 % could easily have swayed the vote to a substantial win for either side.

All citizens of Earth II are immigrants from the nations of Earth.  We know this because at the end of the episode Earth II’s very first native citizen is born.  We also know that the population of voting adults is approximately 2,100 people.  We can reasonably expect a population of motivated immigrants, all living in a tight-knit, small community will all be politically active, especially since one of the hallmarks of Earth II is this experiment in democracy.  

How well will this system work in 40 years, when the second generation Earth Twoians are in ascendancy?  Will they be as active or will they become complacent like voters in more mature democracies? 

Will the population of Earth II be forever constrained, or will it continue to grow as they build the station larger and larger?  Will a D&D work when the population is 5,000, 10,000, 100,000?

One of the questions that came to my mind is, with voting occurring immediately after the Discussion, what if one of the speakers is as inordinately persuasive orator while the other is less so?  I could see this as a similar problem to one we have here in the United States with trials by jury. 

Appointed Public Defenders are simply not as likely to be as prepared or as polished as a paid defense attorney.  It is a system where justice can be dispensed based on your ability to pay for a quality attorney. 

Would not a similar thing happen here?  The person making the case will have a vested interest in bringing it forward for a D&D, but could they enlist a persuasive speaker to put their case?  Who speaks against it?  It would seem a D&D is mostly a challenge to the existing station administration.   Would an efficient and effective administrator end up being this society’s equivalent to a  public defender?

What if the citizens don’t feel like they got enough information to vote immediately?  What recourse have they got?  Are those missing 8% abstentions?

Then there’s the question, what if the “facts” being presented are just false?  Perhaps because I currently live in a country where, on a daily basis, leaders in power tell us black is white and have no regrets and no apologies for lying straight out of their asses, that I find this is the single most fascinating concept in the movie.

We have some hints of the answer to this one in the movie.  Keen-eyed viewers may have noticed that, during the D&D, on the video feed to the population, subtitles were being added to the discussion evaluating not just the facts themselves, but the logical validity of the arguments being presented. 

What a revelation that would be if everything that was said by our modern politicians was processed and vetted in this way!

But, of course, it raises more questions like, “who writes those notations and how are they verified?”  

In Earth II, I believe we’re given enough information to conclude that the notations are generated by a computer.  Later in the movie, Karger is preparing for a second D&D and he mentions that he’s run all his arguments through the computer and his logic is perfect.

If the computer can confirm the validity of a logical argument and the facts contained therein, is there a point to having the citizens vote?  If we reduce politics to facts and valid logical arguments, is there one version of the truth that will prevail?  What if the population votes entirely contrary to the evidence presented by the computer?

All unanswered questions.

The concept is immensely interesting and I hope someday there’s a whole genre for “Science Fiction Democracy.”

Here’s one from the poor timing department.  The main baddies in this film are the “red Chinese” which refers specifically to the citizens of the People’s Republic of China or PRC.  At the time this was filmed, the PRC was fully in control of mainland China, but they were not recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate government of China.  

The citizens of the Republic of China, or Taiwan, as we now almost universally call it, were not the “Red Chinese”; however, during the course of this movie the names are used interchangeably, no doubt to the chagrin of the Chinese on both sides of that civil war.  Just a month before Earth II aired, the UN switched recognition of the government of China to the PRC.  

To be clear, the Republic of China were not the baddies in this film and are completely independent of and have never been part of the People’s Republic of China.

#SuckIt50CentArmy

Earth II is a thoughtful and interesting film in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey hampered somewhat by primitive visual effects and productions values.  If you want to watch big-screen, Academy Award-winning special effects, I recommend watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, but if you want to engage a part of your brain other than the sleep center, give Earth II a chance.

299 – The Night Strangler

Seattle, 1973.  A series of bizarre murders terrorizes the city.  One reporter, new to town, has seen it all before — or at least something very much like it.

Carl Kolchak must battle a long-suffering editor, a disbelieving publisher and Seattle’s finest as he tries to prove an inhuman killer is on the loose.

Simon and review the sequel to the Night Stalker – the 1973 TV movie, the Night Strangler.

296 – The Night Stalker

1972 a surprise TV movie became the most-watched TV movie in American history.  Darren McGavin starred as Carl Kolchak, an abrasive investigative reporter who is investigating the story of a lifetime.  A vampire is prowling the streets of Las Vegas.

Simon and Eugene discuss the TV movie that inspired the TV series that inspired the X-files.  Could it really be that simple?

 

282 – The Man From Earth

A special movie episode of Fusion Patrol.

Ben and Eugene discuss Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth, the 2007 independent film that explores the concepts behind… immortality?  Or does it?

276 – Westworld (Patron Sponsored Episode)

In the 1970’s the future was populated with robots designed to be cowboys and sex workers.  It’s time to clean up your six-shooter and join us for a look at Michael Crichton’s often-overlooked 1973 classic sex-with-robots film, Westworld.

This episode is a special episode brought to you by our patrons at Patreon who help fund this podcast.  Come join them and help us reach our next funding perk goal – a look at the 1950 George Pal classic, Destination Moon,

And once again, a big thank you to our patrons!

200 – Star Trek – The Wrath of Khan

For our 200th episode, we look at the ultimate Star Trek movie (according to conventional wisdom.)  Can Ben and Eugene take a film that they love and pick it apart?

Of course they can!

Join us for the celebration of Star Trek that is The Wrath of Khan!

140 – Sharknado

It’s Shark Week and Movie Night as we review the Internet meme that’s bigger and badder than the movie itself!  It can only be a Sharknado.

David and Eugene take a light-hearted look at last year’s hottest SyFy movie.

Honestly, we don’t know if it was the hottest movie or not, but it should have been.