10 June 2013

Fun SF and F Treats!

More SF and F Possibilities
By Kristin Battestella

Release your inner geek and sit back for this quick list of retro fantasies, science fiction wonders, and fanciful television! 

Nemesis – Kickboxer and all around Marital arts badass of the 1992 moment Olivier Gruner (Interceptor Force, Code Name: Eternity) leads a quirky SF cast – including Tim Thomerson (Trancers), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Showdown in Little Tokyo), Thomas Jane (Hung), Brion James (Blade Runner), and Deborah Shelton (Dallas) – for this intriguing cyborg romp.  It’s totally dated of course – with messy effects, nineties fashions gone wrong, weird accents, poor dialogue, and iffy imitation 2027 technology. The prophetic narration is a bit much, and the attempted romantic conflicts too trite. However, the humor – both intentional and not – and some witty helps the convoluted and tech talk laden story.  The quieter, questioning moments amid the lengthy shootouts, sauce, and nudity also keep the pace interesting. Do synthetics not have lives of their own? Can an android’s soul – her desire to do something with her life – be captured on a chip with the rest of her data? Gruner’s delivery may be tough at times, but he’s pretty decent as a B anti-hero LA cop with cybernetic repair questions and divided loyalties.  We like him, root for him, and he kicks injustice’s ass in return. This isn’t anything new, yet the quality SF notions have held up, and perhaps even improved over the decades.  For the full effect, however, one should avoid the occasional TV airing as it is often woefully cut up. Hopefully, director Albert Pyun (The Sword and the Sorcerer) will provide a restored video release soon. 

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad – I loved this 1958 Ray Harryhausen spectacle as a kid, and it still has it all!  From the wonderful music by Bernard Herrmann (Psycho) to those imaginative – nay – quintessential visuals and bright Technicolor, the ancient high seas adventures, charlatan magic, and innocent romance remain classic and charming for young and old. There’s even a miniature princess!  Sure, some may find the acting over the top now, but that fits the fantasy mood and drama. Those spoiled with CGI effects might find the creature animation stilted, but you’d be wrong.  Those who grew up watching Harryhausen Dynamation effects will be overjoyed to see the Cyclops, dragon, and skeleton all looking dynamite on blu-ray. Today’s overly digital fantasy films should take note, as blu-ray continues to re-invigorated classics like this with a made to look old modern glamour and retro facelift. The 50th anniversary blu-ray also has great menus and a fun interface design to boot.  Not only is the set packed with commentaries and retrospective interviews from contemporary directors and filmmakers but also there’s over two hours of features on effects, music, the late Harryhausen, and more.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger – Ray Harryhausen not only did the special effects for this third 1977 Sinbad picture, but he also wrote the story with Beverley Cross (Clash of the Titans) and served as producer.  Although some matte shots look poor and the baboon and other monsters feel hokey, the stop motion wonders and fun miniatures still look great. The seventies zooms and quick intercutting feels uneven against some of the slower talking to animals scenes, and some night time or high seas photography is tough to see. Thankfully, the colorful sets, flashy and fleshy costumes, and expected Arabian jewels, flair, and designs match the cool Petra locations. Yes, star Patrick Wayne’s (McLintock!, The People That Time Forgot) delivery is a bit too California, but he looks the chiseled part. Patrick Troughton (Doctor Who) makes for a fun little wizard with a conveniently beautiful daughter Taryn Power (The Count of Monte Cristo), and Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) looks delightful – except for those dreadlock-esque braids, shudder. Though the dialogue is bit muddled and the fanciful plot too nonsensical, the nutty witchcraft from Margaret Whiting (Jury) tops it all off. Perhaps this installment is a step down from the magical fifties charm of The 7th Voyage, but it’s still an entertaining adventure for one and all.

Sword of Lancelot – Liberties are taken to keep this lengthy 1963 tale Lancelot centric, but dang if you can find this elusive, ill framed, and butchered DVD!  So our titular man has a bad French accent, the no name sub par cast has a lot of juvenile mid century scripting and dialogue. There are goofy Shakespearean asides and talking to oneself amid all the wooden small talk, too. The women swoon, look a little too Halloween costume medieval, and it all has a coarse community theatre feeling.  And yet, solid atmosphere and love triangles help what’s actually a decent little story get better as the betrayals unfold. The high fantasy knights, chivalry, and Camelot court style inaccurately mix with 5th century peasant looks, yes. It’s tough to tell who is who, and the joust is small scale hokey. Nevertheless, a good bit of action, fast paced and entertaining battles, colorful medieval banners, flashy tunics, period flair, and all the expected Arthurian characters are here. Perhaps then it was scandalous – blood and heavies amid a poolside bathing with this newfangled soap! – but today’s fanciful youths can enjoy this flawed, but fun little yarn.  

TV Guide Looks at Science Fiction – William Shatner hosts this 1997 hour long TV Guide special chronicling the history of genre efforts in the medium from the television’s first Flash Gordon era serials to Space: 1999, Battlestar: Galatica, The Bionic Woman, Time Tunnel, and more.  Humorous and slightly juvenile fair such as My Favorite Martian and Mork and Mindy are also contrasted against more recent mature series, including Quantum Leap, The X-Files, and Babylon 5. Lesser-known series like Space Patrol and Small Wonder are also discussed amid popular programs like Lost in Space, Star Trek, and The Twilight Zone. I could have done without the silly robot jokes, and in such a quick hour, some more obscure series like Blake’s 7 are bound to be missing. Fortunately, these lovely clips, vintage footage, and nostalgic interviews are perfect for a media history or social classroom study, and fans looking for rare tapes and informative insights can delight here.

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