BluRay/DVD Reviews

STRANGE NEW WORLD

By • May 24th, 2010 •

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Have you ever come across a street corner in your neighborhood where restaurant after restaurant has failed? The types of cuisine might change, the food might be good, but that corner is just cursed. Well that’s what became of this TV series idea. In one form or another, it kept resurfacing, only to be deep-sixed. And while Gene Roddenberry was originally involved, by the time this third variation on the theme was wheeled out, his connection to the pilot was a few generations removed.

STRANGE NEW WORLD is a melding of two one-hour TV pilots for the same show, and either each was shot by a different DP or the budget changed drastically from the first episode to the second, because the second half of the show is darker, grittier, and more contrasty – generally less pleasant to look at.

Between “Star Trek: the TV series” and STRANGE NEW WORLD, much had happened in sci-fi, primarily 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The only acknowledgement of that leap in effects technology in SNW is one prolonged solarization sequence near the beginning. The film stock during this sequence is scratched pretty badly, probably in the optical printer, but it’s nowhere near as compelling as Kubrick’s use of it, nor is it as beautiful as Disney’s solarized Banshee in DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE way back in 1959. “Space 1999,” starring Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, released on TV the same year, was a little more techno-hip.

The plot: three astronauts in suspended animation have their sleep schedule extended – by 180 years – without their knowledge, when it becomes clear to their command center that an asteroid shower is about to bombard the Earth, more or less dooming the human race. Why 180 years? I don’t know (something about how long it takes for their craft to orbit the sun, they explain, but really I guess it’s because all those generations can make way for some fanciful plot-lines). They come out of their slumber, stretch, take showers (I’m assuming this last part) and then, aware of what’s happened, return to Earth where their directive is to find several hundred more people who’ve been sleeping in an underground bunker, awaiting their return. But along the way, countless obstacles and adventures lie in their path.

One of those obstacles is not Triffids, in case you’re wondering. Those pesky creatures came down in a planet-wide meteor shower, you might recall, and almost everyone on Earth was blinded by watching their colorful lights upon hitting our atmosphere. Said Triffids – carnivorous plants capable of uprooting themselves and stalking their prey – made things that much worse for all the maladjusted blind folk.

No Triffids to be found here. Instead, our intrepid trio first encounters a kind of hippy commune of the distant future – where everyone is sporting primary-colored togas that resemble the chorus line costumes of SHANGRI-LA THE MUSICAL crossed with the Eloi’s garb from George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE. Painful. One of these unfortunately costumed futurites – normally-malevolent beauty Martine Beswick (THUNDERBALL, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, DOCTOR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, PREHISTORIC WOMEN) – is decked out in a robin’s egg blue toga cut to flow below the breasts a la Barbara Eden’s Academy Award winning gown in THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, except that it makes Ms. Beswick look less elegant than pregnant. Adding insult to injury, her hair is pulled tightly back, and there’s no longer a malevolent bone to be found in her sensual face. It’s an odd role for her, and she’s neither suited for it nor well directed in it. Another major member of this youthful mini-society is James Olson, who is in reality 6’3″, but looks here like he’s Richard Kiel’s height, or at least Ted Cassidy’s. As the episode unfolds, despite appearances, we learn that all is not well in this love-in paradise. * And our leads barely get out unscathed.

Next, several months later we’re informed, they stumble upon a jungle paradise, inhabited by guavas, exotic birds, goats, bears, lions, llamas, you name it. Could it be that some end-of-days Noah built an ark back in the 70s and preserved Earth’s wildlife? Nope, it’s two feuding societies living around the environs of a wildlife preserve from our pre-holocaust past. This concept of feuding families goes way back to Shakespeare, and has been resurrected as recently as George Romero’s new SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, where proper treatment of zombies causes a fatal rift between two families living on a pastoral island. In SNW, the slightly more primitive tribe is led by Bill McKinney, a spectacular choice since he had just recently come off DELIVERANCE, playing a backwoods rapist, and brings his redneck delivery with him two centuries into the future. He’s not particularly good, but again that falls on the director’s head, I would assume, since everyone in the film – John Saxon, Kathleen Miller, Olson, Beswick, Reb Brown – everyone except for Gerrit Graham and Keene Curtis, are pretty lifeless, and exacerbate the problem by taking endless pauses before delivering their lines.

The show’s daffy logic and pacing, and its hokey art direction, may be fun for those among you who enjoy reflections of a certain time and mindset. On those levels it’s bad enough to be good, but not good/bad enough to sustain itself for the duration.

As the pilot journey wraps up, our three Rip Van Winkles set off to enjoy further adventures. For all we know, their hundreds of friends and family members are still sleeping peacefully somewhere beneath the earth, and the trio, now in their seventies, are still roaming the planet in the hopes of awakening them and kissing them goodbye before succumbing to old age.

* SPOILER – In the second pilot story, defending the John Saxon character to some suspicious villagers, Ms. Miller insists that he would never hurt anyone. Perhaps she’d forgotten that at the end of the previous story, everyone in the hippie commune was dead and lying untended on the grounds of their city as the three ‘harmless’ astronauts departed…

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One Response »

  1. John Saxon RULES!

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