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Excellent, Dark, Funny, Devastating and mostly all here.
This is a story about shredding illusions and self-deceit about life. The characters are all dead in a waiting room for eternity that is a steam bath with a Hispanic attendant who is more than he appears. One by one they understand the actual situation and all but the main character come to acceptance of the life he or she had and that it is time to move on. The main character is more deeply enmeshed in the self-deceptions of his life than the others. This fact provides the central thread and conclusion of the play. In the meantime the audience gets many pungent and humorous reflections from the characters.
There have been negative reviews of this TV production mostly because of some editing for language from the stage version. This is more a criticism of the TV establishment of the time than of the play or its production here. I have the stage version and have read it. In my opinion all the important aspects and meaning of this play are preserved in this video production and it is well worth watching. The removed language is not critical to the work. Much of what was changed then would be allowed now even on network TV. (Of course, on cable it could be produced exactly to the book, unless A&E got a hold of it in which case it would be scarcely recognizable.)
This play is not a life affirming upbeat work for people who think everything has a purpose and all things work out for the best. But it is one of my favorites.
The Kallikaks (1977)
Perhaps the worst TV comedy ever
Before this show was shown on television, my parents and I (still at home at the time) had the opportunity to be part of a home test audience for it. It was one of the worst, if not THE worst, show I had ever seen, even allowing for the trial version being something of a rough cut. We so advised the testing organization making it very clear that we thought it was an awful program that should not be released for sheer lack of quality and expressed clearly our opinion that it was not just a bad episode but essentially a stillborn project to the root. One might also consider the hick stereotypes as offensive as well, but that was not our point, our point was that it was simply bad. We took into account that this is a country that bestowed success upon the likes of The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres.
It went on to be shown in prime time. The show that went on was not substantially different from the test version. Our estimate was completely vindicated by its very short run. Very gratifying I suppose, but I would have not have been surprised it it had run for years like other bits of garbage have.
The show has competition for the top (that is, bottom) spot but will remain on my short list of most terrible attempts at entertainment forever.
Weak, tired and ends badly
I have to wonder if the source material has as many problems as the episode. Serling wrote a teleplay from a story by Lou Holtz.
The biggest problem here is the ending. What sort of monster would leave this poor defenseless baby that used to be Harmon Gordon(Patrick O'Neal) in the care of Flora Gordon (Ruta Lee)? Good Serling scripts leave off with plausible and satisfying results depending only on the basic suspension of disbelief required to get there, for example, the fate of Captain Lutze in "Deathshead Revisited". This ending takes a huge final leap after all that came before on grounds that are far too real. Even with the hammer of losing the benefit of Harmon's money unless she takes proper care of the baby would not be enough to transform this selfish woman into a fit mother. It's out of the frying pan into the fire for poor Harmon, I fear, a fool for love from end to start.
A Big Chunk on the TZ slag heap.
The Twilight Zone is at the top of my short list of favorite TV or short films of any kind. When it is great there has been nothing better. But this is not to say that every episode is a gem. I am not alone in thinking that some are quite regrettable outcomes of multi-season burn-out (understandable to say the least), budget constraints, deadline pressure or a plain dud. The fourth season produced quite a few duds due to the effort of going to a full hour(*), while the fifth is a desert with a few oases of the quality of the first three seasons. Given the number of episodes per season in those days and the enormous challenge of coming up with fresh and distinct story ideas in this genre the achievement overall is unsurpassed.
This episode is one of the exceptionally weak episodes along with the one hour "Thirty Fathom Grave", "The Fear", "A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain", "Probe 7 Over and Out" and a few others. Aside from suffering from a bare and obvious gimmick arrived at tediously it also lacks the moral insight that illuminates so much of Serling's best work(**). It is a sign of writing fatigue after five years of outstanding work that Serling, who so cleanly and brilliantly dissected the Nazi "Final Solution" in "Deathshead Revisted", totalitarianism in "The Obsolete Man") and war in "The Purple Testament", should now evince enthusiasm for some slack weekend warriors joining the most famous failure in the very successful campaign to colonize North America by swindle when possible and force when necessary that came very close to outright genocide. It is a poor recycle of material from far better prior episodes, such as the time overlaps of "A Hundred Yards Over The Rim". This episode's only virtue is that it got a barely presentable show on the air on time.
Several reviewers wonder about "why not bring the tank (and a few grenades)"? Having the names on the memorial is one thing, explaining the presence of the hulk of a large technological weapon not even invented (or even invent-able) for another 50 years in a form not invented for another 20+ years would rupture the already strained suspension of disbelief inherent in time travel stories. In real life, Col. Custer had the option of packing Gatling guns but rejected them as too cumbersome, but if a tank should just show up, what the hell! I have always thought of Little Big Horn as simply the odds catching up with the recklessness of the most famous of all West Point goats to the great misfortune of his men.
One wonders what might have been done with the idea in the hands of a fresher Serling earlier in the run. Good point. I would like to think the Indians would get a better shake in the writing in keeping with Serling's other work, and it would have an ending up to the standard of "The Purple Testament".
I am glad so many others really enjoy this unfortunate leaving of the great Serling in burnout. It is a dirty job and someone has to do it!
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(*) you may have noticed that most good one hour fantasy shows like the Star Trek franchise usually employ two stories (i.e. material for two half hour episodes) interwoven to make the hour.
(**) Little Big Horn buff or not, I will note one fact that IS documented, that one big reason Serling took the Twilight Zone assignment was that in a fantasy context he could unload both barrels of the human insight and moral outrage that he could no longer get produced as straight contemporary drama. That point of view, so well expressed so many other times, seems lost or at least distorted beyond recognition in this episode.
Prime example of why remakes are a bad idea in new TZ
It is hard to critique this episode without something of a spoiler but the Twilight Zone is so well known now that there can't be much left to spoil. That is except the qualities that made the episode worthwhile in the first place. I don't think any of the remake episodes in this series were a good idea with the exception of A Game of Pool which restored the writer's original ending that was changed in the original production. This one is a prime example of when it was a bad idea.
The original script focuses on the main character a young woman who can only remember one month of her life who goes to a department store where she eventually discovers that she is a mannequin who was given her turn to have a real life in our world and must return so that another can take a turn. She struggles but in the end she remembers and comes to terms with her destiny. There were virtually no special effects and the writing was about her character and gradual realization of who she really is and her relationship to the other mannequins.
This version cheapens all that to turn it into a short B-horror movie. The mannequins come after her in literal reality, hands without fingers and such details. She breaks a window and they chase her through the mall (an acceptable update from the multi-floor department store of the original although the non-existent 13th floor where mannequins are stored was a nice touch) looking evil and threatening. As they close in she begins to turn back into a mannequin one body part at a time. Leg turns to plastic, then an arm etc. The subtleties of character and acting of the original are gone in favor of special effects and makeup tricks. It is as if the episode had been moved from Twilight Zone to Night Gallery. It also went from a foot deep to an inch.
The Twilight Zone: A Game of Pool (1989)
A worthy remake
In this first revival of the Twilight Zone since Rod Serling's original series there were a few episodes that were redone from the first series. Not one came up to its predecessor in any non-technical respect in my opinion and should have been omitted in favor of fresh material. This one is different in that it has a reason to be. The original show had a different ending than the script the author (George Clayton Johnson) had written. This production delivers the original script with the original ending. It would be hard to match let alone surpass the strong performances of Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters in the original but this episode does succeed in presenting the story as the author wrote it.
The Quiet Earth (1985)
Less than meets the eye.
<**SPOILERS**> As there is really not much to spoil.
What is worse? A sci-fi movie that let's you know that it is junk early on (so it can be turned off) or one that starts out well, meanders for an hour or so, then finally comes to nothing (luring its victim into watching the whole thing)? This movie is the the latter category. It looks good. It's not major big budget effects but the modest effects it does have are not tacky. Good not great. The story concerns three characters (Old Smart Guy, Young Woman, Hunky Young Ethnic) that are the only three left in the world. The first, OSG, wakes up (in that cinema rarity, full frontal male nudity) to find that he seems to be the only person on a undamaged earth (except where planes crash etc). I mean the ONLY person, living or dead, as there are very few bodies or little piles of white dust or anything. There also appears to be no living things other than humans either, the earth is indeed quiet. OSG does the usual last man on earth things, looks for survivors, gets on the radio (sure to reach everyone who scans the police bands all day), gathers up useful and delicious things, gets drunk, makes speeches to cut-outs of famous people, tries on women's clothes, the usual. So far so good. Then YM turns up. OK. Not much happens as OSG investigates what happened, and YM investigates the empty stores. There is a little (very little, and that's good) sex segment with OSG in bed (another full frontal), and YM going bottomless behind her maid/nurse/whatever outfit (crotch gag goes here, comic relief?). Next, enter HYE, as he cunningly traps OSG at machine gun point but turns out to be OK after he sees YM soon after. (Good news: no automatic sex, no violence, no rape etc) Now we are on "Five" and "World, Flesh and the Devil" territory but not much develops. OSG turns out to have been a scientist involved in the program that did all this and he determines that the device involved will make it happen again soon. Perhaps you are wondering why these lucky people are still here? Turns out that being near death at the critical instant is the key. I am not impressed but at least it does go easy on the well-worn "long tunnel into the light" stuff. Action with trucks to get explosives to blow up the machine fills up the next few minutes. OSG goes forward to suicide bomb the building where the device is. So what else? (I guess the tension is just too much...) HYE and YM (finally) rip off their draperies for a little perfunctory leg-over (perfunctory apart from the interracial angle perhaps, another edgy element to complement the nudity?)just in case the world ends (as if Jay in "Dogma" HAD gotten his wish). OSG blows the thing up, lights flash, OSG is on a beach (is he On The Beach?) on a dark earth with a Saturn-like object in the sky looking much bigger than the moon. THE END. What happened? Where did HYE and YM go? Is the earth out by Saturn now? (If so shouldn't OSG be flash frozen along with the waves offshore?) Is Saturn near the earth? (The gravitational issues here boggle the mind) Is there any prospect at all of a future humanity? Your guess is as good as mine. In short we have another one of those "leave it up to the viewer", BS, cop-out, non-ending with what is supposed to be an impressive visual.
This movie is a major disappointment as it starts out looking like the real thing, meanders becoming neither really interesting, nor steamy, nor real trash to finally peter out into mush. No message, no moral, no point and nowhere near enough "oh, Wow!" to compensate with mindless entertainment for what is lacking as literature. It is mercifully brief at 90 minutes. It would have been REALLY annoying have sat through a "Solaris" sized epic for what this delivers.
The movie is based on a novel. I wonder if the novel is really much better but, as so often happens, not much more than its title got into the movie. (This was the case with the sorry movie "Freejack" "based on" the fine novel "Immortality Inc". In that case it was a spectacular car crash not a title that was only thing that made it into the movie.) I recommend that you flip it once on Netflix if you must, but it is definitely no masterpiece and, for me at least, a long way from a keeper. Three for the movie, one more for looking good.
One example of the second season decay of this series
One of the weakest episodes in this outstanding series both in terms of a slight and tedious story line, poor science fiction premise and production values. The chintzy rag doll Venusian is a bit of an embarrassment even by low budget TV series standards of the day, and compared to other episodes in this series. This is William Shatner's only episode in this series but he bears no blame for its defects.
There are a few even weaker ones, all in the second season. All the same, the hit to miss ratio for the Outer Limits in the 60's is far better than in its successor in the 90's despite the technical advancement on display of the latter. For a direct comparison examine the The Inheritors or Nightmare, where I think you will find that the better look and snarky attitude pale against the superior writing, direction and acting of the original. However, the I, Robot revision was a worthy effort, and I recall Feasibility Study as being about even.) And the original series NEVER blew off an episode by recycling other episodes with a flimsy story line as the later series did at least once per season, reaching a peak in a two-part recycle episode (Final Appeal).
The Happening (2008)
The one-hit wonder thuds out another one.
The Sixth Sense was a fine movie, a truly great addition to the horror/supernatural genre that has so few really good movies (at least in proportion to the garbage). This movie is a waste of very expensive celluloid and I was amazed that Ebert cut it so much slack.
1. The underlying message is a simple minded, heavy handed green preachment. I am a person who regards humanity as the metastasized cancer of the biosphere so I am not reacting to that message as some sort of knee-jerk dominionist corporate booster. If only the environment could defend itself so purposefully. In any case it is not a good enough pay-off to justify sitting through 80 minutes or so of contrived "suspense", mediocre, at best, writing, and all the over-acting.
2. The so-called suspense strikes me as so much padding to a thin short story that might merit an appearance in a magazine or anthology. In essence it is a greened-up knock off of du Maurier's "The Birds" with plants instead of birds, padded out with horror sequences reminiscent of one of the bad Stephen King movies (e.g. Maximum Overdrive).
3. I felt sorry for the actors straining to emote out the frail gossamer of this story line. All criticism of the performances should be laid at the door of the director. If any of these actors are favorites of yours, I recommend self-induced amnesia.
4. It is a wonder that anyone interested in either art or commerce still funds this director's so-called projects after Lady in the Water, and more so after this turkey.
5. I am grateful that the offense was not compounded by a heavy dose of quirky "artistic" camera work as well. It is a perfectly good looking movie, what a decent budget and hiring the right people will get you nearly every time.
M. Night Shyamalan remains, in my opinion, a confirmed one-hit wonder. If audiences and his backers are fortunate, he might someday become a two-hit wonder. Time is running out for him to move up to legend from mere cult in danger of becoming camp.
It was OK anyway.
Problems with the New Outer Limits. Many.
First was that at most half the scripts were really worth doing at all which is inexcusable given the vast resources of untapped stories in decades of science fiction and fantasy magazines and books.
Another was the dubious choice to remake a few of the best original series stories producing episodes that were manifestly inferior to the old black and white version in every way but looks. Exceptions might be "Feasibility Study" that was not far off the original as I recall, and "I,Robot" when we must choose between the good simple Adam Link of old, or the new dark, brooding, punky one. In the original the good people were the cynics, now the robot is a cynic too! At least both were good episodes. Definitely no exception for the "Inheritors" chopped down to a cold, sickly one hour.
The worst problem was that at least once each season the producers grossly compounded their deficiencies by turning out an episode made out of recycled scenes from earlier ones with the lamest script of all (no exceptions). A budget saver for sure but an insult to any serious and knowledgeable viewer. This was bad enough when it was one episode but the producers topped themselves with a two part regurgitation, "Final Appeal", that wasted an astounding battery of well known major actors and actresses headed by no less than Charleton Heston.
About as bad as that was, was the addition of superfluous text (was this a legal thing?) to the signature control voice speech that starts every show, and the pretentious and usually non sequitur comments of the control voice for the start and end of specific episodes. This was not a problem on the old show but an embarrassing excrescence on the new one.
Another problem, one that applies here, is that there seemed to be a definite mission to deconstruct the 50's sci-fi tradition, still well in evidence in the original series, that one way or another, no matter how out-brained, out tech-ed, or even out-numbered, humanity always emerged triumphant(1). It would not be a problem, in fact it is long overdue on TV, except that it usually resulted in rather facile, contrived episodes that were merely snarky, or dreary and obvious preaching rather than good sci-fi with a message. Thus the reviewer that complains of the baldly preachy episodes found in this series has a point.
(SPOILER) But I liked this one anyway if only for the pleasure of seeing the consternation of the swaggering corporate mercenaries (compare to the real life example of Blackwater contractors in the field today) among the crew when they finally realized that they had affirmed their manhood and species superiority by boldly wiping out a scout troop on a camp-out, the parents had arrived, and they were going to get their final lesson in survival of the fittest in short order after their files were uploaded, and resistance was indeed futile. It is a nice enough twist for a respectable short story in a magazine or a one hour TV show. One of most successful of these deconstruction episodes. (End of SPOILER)
Still I was glad someone was giving this a try and getting on the air. The best of these episodes are better than a typical "sci-fi channel original" movie and nearly all are better than the rest of the trash passed off as original sci-fi on cable. I would forgive them almost everything if it weren't for those awful and insulting recycle episodes.
(1) Is this merely pandering? Or is it a significant expression of the arrogant assumptions of the place of humanity in the cosmos that pervade most the world's cultures and religions?