Friday, February 26, 2010

Where’s the Lost and Found?

Okay, I have made the dive into the vagaries, the misconceptions, and the mythologies of one of the iconic television programs of all time. I have been watching “Lost”, but I’m not... lost, that is.

The first season turned up on my doorstep as the result of one of my daughters saying, “Dad! You have to do this!”

I replied, “I don’t have to do this. I have lots of other things to watch, and since, as you have pointed out to me many times before, my mind is dribbling out of my ears at an increasing rate, all of old stuff will be new to me. Onward and upward to ‘Farscape’!”

“No, no, no! Try it! You’ll like it!”

Actually, I tried it for two reasons. First, I really did want something new to watch and, second, I was tired of all of the mysterious talk at the dinner table and in the neighborhood about the stuff that is going on in the final season. So I began with season one.

I had, prior to these past couple of weeks, seen portions of about three episodes, but none of those momentary glances really gave me any idea what was going on with the various characters or the situation that they were in. Now after having watched all but the second half of “Exodus”, the season finale, I have a few observations to make. Doing so, I know that I will be ridiculed by the fans, that I have no clue, that “You just wait! You’ll see that I am right in the end!” I don’t care. I am responding to what I have seen so far, all future mysteries aside.

First, I like the photography. Shooting the series in Hawaii was a good choice. Watching each episode in high definition DVDs on a good 37 inch screen has been delightful. I, not the original fans, am getting the full impact of what was intended by J.J. Abrams and the boys because I am seeing it in a better venue. Hawaii has enough variety that the scenery can become a part of the story line. I find that as helpful as the music at times.

Second, the story-line and the dialogue are well-crafted and, amazingly enough, almost believable. The little flashbacks into the lives of the survivors is a nice touch, showing that the characters were already “Lost” long before the plane fell apart. But that is all part of the charisma of the show. We as the audience are fundamentally just voyeurs; we really want to know all of the little secrets that everyone has. I like the fact that the writers have gone to great lengths to have the individual life-bubbles bump each other in the background. Sometimes, if you look away from the screen for an instant, some little connection would be lost. I suspect that this is why the DVDs have sold like hotcakes.

Thirdly, it is clear that the casting department went to great lengths to have the speaking characters be as physically diverse as they could be. There is no mistaking Hurley for Sun. It was a fun moment when Dominic Monaghan showed up as Charlie. As I watched him stand beside all of the other actors in the show, I realized that he really is no bigger than a hobbit. Go Merry! Drink some more of that Entwash back at the cave! The appearance of Danielle Rousseau, her intriguing accent, sent me back to my “Babylon 5” days, when Mira Furlan played Delenn using her same dulcet Croatian tones. I have to say, however, that in the last week I have seen four people that could pass for Hurley; none were moving as fast as Jorge Garcia can.

With regard to the underlying mythological aspects of the show, I have failed to see anything that is usually attributed to the superstructure of the storyline, and I know a great deal about the mythologies of the world. Perhaps they show up later. For the benefit of anyone who reads this piece, I have to add that when a “novum” is presented, an unexplained event, and its source is never related to the real world, the reader or viewer is engaged in fantasy. When the “novum” is explained in believable terms, the audience is in the middle of a mystery. When the “novum” is explained as an extension of current technology, but a technology that does not yet exist in the real world, then we are enjoying science fiction. By the end of this final season, I am quite certain that some one of the fans, perhaps many, is going to be disappointed as to how the real genre falls out. In the meantime, I will go on to season two, knowing that people are not going to fuss with me a lot.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

All the Right B Movies

I have always liked watching films…., even the bad ones…., especially the bad ones. When my father brought home our first television set, a nine-inch round screen device, I could not get enough. In the Los Angeles area, we had four or five stations. My particular favorite was Channel 9, KCAL, if I remember correctly. One of their early programming ploys was “The Movie of the Week”. What was meant by the title was that the same movie would be shown every night at 7:00 PM for seven days in a row. That is how I managed to memorize the complete dialog of “Godzilla” starring Raymond Burr. The film was made in 1956 and apparently went straight to television from the theaters. Here are the opening lines as spoken by Burr:

“This is Tokyo. Once a city of six million people. What has happened here was caused by a force which up until a few days ago was entirely beyond the scope of Man's imagination. Tokyo, a smoldering memorial to the unknown, an unknown which at this very moment still prevails and could at any time lash out with its terrible destruction anywhere else in the world. There were once many people here who could've told of what they saw... now there are only a few. My name is Steve Martin. I am a foreign correspondent for United World News. I was headed for an assignment in Cairo, when I stopped off in Tokyo for a social; but it turned out to be a visit to the living HELL of another world.”

Godzilla ravages Tokyo but eventually is destroyed by a special formula that looks like Alka-Seltzer while it is working, and dissolves Godzilla as if he had been attacked by a billion Piranha fish. Sound familiar? This formula has been followed by almost every science fiction film ever since. The interesting thing is that the environmental community was influential in producing this film as well. Godzilla was the product of atomic bomb testing. In fact every monster film in the 1950 was a product of atomic bomb testing.

Godzilla was a “B” movie. The term is similar to the categories for records when they were released as “singles”. The “A” side of a record was the hit, the song that was being played on all of the radio stations across the country. The “B” side was just a filler song; sometimes good, usually not. When we went to the movies as kids, there was usually a double feature. The “A” movies was generally something like “Gone With the Wind”; the “B” movie was something like “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, reportedly the worst film ever made (I own it on DVD, and it is). The most impressive “B” movie I ever saw in the theater was “Blood of Dracula”. I watched it with some of my cousins in Brea, California, while our parents went off to somewhere more entertaining. I had nightmares about “Blood of Dracula” for years. When Nancy Perkins (played by Sandra Harrison) transformed into a vampire I nearly lost my lunch, my breakfast, and every meal that I had eaten the previous week.

Some critics suggest that most of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies were of the “A” variety. While others may quibble about it, I have to say that my personal experience with his “Psycho” was of the “B” movie variety. I was home on leave from the military, visiting with my cousins in Imperial Valley, California. Mike Waddington and his twin sisters, Jan and Jean, are some of my favorite people in all of the world. When they suggested that we go see the new Hitchcock movie I was game. I remember sitting in the theater in Brawley, my cousins on either side of me, the tension of the movie increasing in a geometric function, until the heroine decided that the bright thing to do was to go down the stairs to the basement. I could tell that that was a bad idea. I knew this because I had seen a lot of “B” movies; I knew this because the music told me so. I decided that that was as good a time to go to the bathroom as there ever would be. I took my time, but Alfred had my number. As I walked by into the darkened screening room, Lila Crane (played by Vera Miles) was just turning the rocking chair around with Norman Bates’ mother in it. I am afraid that I was just a little unnerved.

I bring all of this up because of my little foray with “B” movies this week. I was at Wal-Mart shopping for something, when I stopped at the DVD section. There were two movies I had never heard of before. The first was “Lost City Raiders”. The cover contained a picture of the Statue of Liberty mostly underwater with fire coming from the torch, the Brooklyn Bridge broken and mostly submerged, and divers swimming with the sharks. But it starred James Brolin and Ben Cross, so I thought, “Well, this has to be a “B” movie (my ‘favert’) and it has the added attraction of having people who can actually act”. I was wrong on both counts. It was a “C” movie and the film had 98 minutes of non-acting. The only thing that saved it was the special effects. At the heart of the matter was environmentalism, global warming plus the world really offending God. My capacity for suspending my disbelief (which is extraordinary in any event) was expanded to new heights of fancy.

The second film was “Inalienable”. How could you miss with folks like Richard Hatch, Courtney Peldon, Marina Sirtis, Erick Avari, and Walter Koenig? A “B” movie it was, however, with bells on. I should have expected exactly what I got when I saw that dear old Ensign Chekov had written and produced the thing. All I need to say is that Richard Hatch gives birth to an alien boy with six tentacles and the government finds out about it. After watching all 106 minutes of the movie, I said to myself, “Hmmmm, Walter seems to have some unresolved family issues”.

Now, having given my review on these two beasties, do I regret having watched them? Heavens, no! I now own the three worst films ever made in the history of cinematography. What could be better than that? I know! I’ll start with the first season of “Farscape”! No? Maybe “Earth: Final Conflict”, then…. Perhaps, “Alien Nation”….? “Space 1999”…? the possibilities are endless!