Skip to main content

Volcanoes do not make deals!


The Fantastic Journey
6. An Act of Love

Varian is front-and-centre in this episode. While it’s nice to see Martin given something to do, it further calls into question the way the writers are treating the character. This is a guy who showed extra sensory awareness of others’ intentions, now reduced to the state of a dupe. And the pronounced pacifist resolves matters by flipping out and destroying the temple that took his new wife. On the positive side, Sil-El is in maximum hero cat mode; the little darling.

Varian: I feel like our auras are one.

No sooner have the travellers arrived in cave, under a volcanic landscape, than Varian is shot with a dart. He doesn’t feel too well and lapses into sleep, during which he dreams of Gwenith (Christina Hart). The next day he happens across her strumming a futuristic lyre and is instantly smitten. Writer Virgil W. Vogel appears to have adapted Cupid’s Arrow with a chemically-induced twist.

You wouldn't like a man from the 23rd century when he's angry.

The how and whys of this science are left unexplored. Unsurprisingly, as it’s a series perquisite for new realms not stand up to too much interrogation. In general, much about this episode doesn’t make sense. Gwenith’s love for Varian seems genuine, so was she dosed with the love potion too? Will Varian stop caring about her eventually when the effects wear off, or is his condition permanent (he’s still feeling it in Funhouse)?

The society worships the volcano god Vetticus, and the inevitable moral of this tale is the danger of blind faith. But it takes some swallowing that, having set straight the volcano-worshipping indigenous primitives, the sophisticated colonists (another extra-planetary people) succumbed to the same beliefs when the volcano started spewing (in anger). Being technologically advance wouldn’t they like, you know, investigate the reasons behind the eruption rather than choosing the most unlikely explanation?

Maera: It is the duty of every priestess to sacrifice her beloved.

To placate the irascible deity, the husband of every priestess must be sacrificed the day after his wedding night (so at least he gets one good shag out of the arrangement).  It seems to have been working so far, so why jinx it? It’s all kept very secret, however (prospective hubbies wouldn’t be queuing up if they knew what was in store). Even Gwenith doesn’t know until Maera tells her. But then, she doesn’t know Maera’s her mum until she lets on either. How does that work? Maera reassures her that it’s all fine; her dad met the same fate.

To be fair to Gwenith, she’s reluctant to lose Varian to the volcano but goes along with it all for as long as she can. This episode seems to have blown its budget on the temple set (with a fiery floor in the middle). As a result, they can only afford to adorn Varian with a splendid bed sheet, tied around his neck, during the marriage ceremony.

From here the episode gets about as racy as this series is able. Gwenith’s a virgin and Varian will enact the “rites of unification” during their night of carnal pleasure. Frankie Howerd would have a field day.

Only the best bed linen.

One might read into Varian’s plight the subtext that each man’s life is over once he enters into wedlock; no more freedom, just the slow lingering death of marital imprisonment. Not that Varian has any doubts; when Gwenith jumps into the flames in Varian’s place he goes apeshit, razing the temple with his tuning fork (the symbol of his phallic potency, signalling his masculine superiority over this group?) I half expected his fork to give out, since he’s using it for destructive purposes. It’s all very un-Varian, so that love dart must have been strong stuff.

A rock fall traps the rest of the travellers in a cave early on. Fortunately Sil-El, who was keeping tabs on Varian when he went to find Gwenith, meows them in the direction of an escape route. Later on, the felicitous feline leads Scotty to the temple where Varian is about to be sacrificed. What a courageous kitty!

Another look at those lovely bridal gowns.

Scott isn’t best pleased at the outset when he Varian informs him that he will be remaining with Gwenith, but he mans up and accepts it. He still can’t help being a bit of a wet blanket, though; the group have already left Varian to a brief life of bliss when Scott decides to go back and give him a marriage gift. Secretly, he must have been delighted when Varian’s missus leapt to her death; his surrogate dad’s back!

Willaway: Volcanoes do not make deals!

As usual, Willaway gets to impart the moral of the tale. This episode is generally regarded as pro-atheism, but it would probably be better categorised as anti-religious. It’s the organised power structure of the cult that leads to Gwenith’s death. As with The Wicker Man a few years earlier, this cult roots its beliefs in the untameable natural world. They believe Veddicus can be placated through human sacrifice (but unlike The Wicker Man they do not require the sacrifice of a virgin).

Dog food face.

Varian screams “There’s no god”, an opposing viewpoint to Edward Woodward’s in the film; the latter finds final solace in his Christian beliefs. Although they travel perpetually through a New-Agey realm, the travellers (aside from the more mystical Liana) are characterised by their scientific outlook.

Willaway tells it like it is.

Willaway: Take your people away from here. Found a new colony elsewhere and leave superstition behind.

There’s nothing very subtle or insightful about this familiar iteration of the primitive tribe story. The image of Veddicus is that of a horned demon, but his most disturbing quality is that he appears to have Pedigree Chum stuffed in his mouth and eyeholes. It might have been more interesting to show a cynically manipulating leader (like Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man) but this lot all seem to be boringly devout. Zaros (Jonathan Goldsmith) has a prevailing horn for Gwenith (“Tonight he will possess what I most want”), but he seems no less of a believer than the others.  Joe Dante regular Belinda Balaski also features in this episode, as Aria.

Scott: I’m sorry, Varian.
Varian: It’s all right. I have you. I’ve got a memory. Most people don’t even have that much.

It’s really Martin’s performance that carries this one through it’s frequent bumpy patches. He brings complete conviction to Varian’s plight, even though he must be aware that the character has diverged significantly from his original model. But for all the destruction on display, here’s another episode where the powers-that-be are encouraged to follow a new path rather than being overthrown (I suppose you could argue that their god is deposed). With pursuit of a better path resting on the emotive issue of the loss of a daughter, who’s to say they will follow Willaway’s advice?


Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.