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?


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

Yeah, keep walking, you lanky prick!

Mute (2018)
(SPOILERS) Duncan Jones was never entirely convincing when talking up his reasons for Mute’s futuristic setting, and now it’s easy to see why. What’s more difficult to discern is his passion for the project in the first place. If the picture’s first hour is torpid in pace and singularly fails to muster interest, the second is more engaging, but that’s more down to the unappetising activities of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s supporting surgeons than the quest undertaken by Alex Skarsgård’s lead. Which isn’t such a compliment, really.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.