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

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…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.

No time to dilly-dally, Mr Wick.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
(SPOILERS) At one point during John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, our eponymous hero announces he needs “Guns, lots of guns” in a knowing nod to Keanu Reeves’ other non-Bill & Ted franchise. It’s a cute moment, but it also points to the manner in which the picture, enormous fun as it undoubtedly is, is a slight step down for a franchise previously determined to outdo itself, giving way instead to something more self-conscious, less urgent and slightly fractured.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

She worshipped that pig. And now she's become him.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)
(SPOILERS) Choosing to make The Girl in the Spider’s Web following the failure of the David Fincher film – well, not a failure per se, but like Blade Runner 2049, it simply cost far too much to justify its inevitably limited returns – was a very bizarre decision on MGM’s part. A decision to reboot, with a different cast, having no frame of reference for the rest of the trilogy unless you checked out the Swedish movies (or read the books, but who does that?); someone actually thought this would possibly do well? Evidently the same execs churning out desperately flailing remakes based on their back catalogue of IPs (Ben-Hur, The Magnificent Seven, Death Wish, Tomb Raider); occasionally there’s creative flair amid the dross (Creed, A Star is Born), but otherwise, it’s the most transparently creatively bankrupt studio there is.

I mean, I think anybody who looked at Fred, looked at somebody that they couldn't compare with anybody else.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) 
(SPOILERS) I did, of course, know who Fred Rogers was, despite being British. Or rather, I knew his sublimely docile greeting song. How? The ‘Burbs, naturally. I was surprised, given the seeming unanimous praise it was receiving (and the boffo doco box office) that Won’t You Be My Neighbor? didn’t garner a Best Documentary Oscar nod, but now I think I can understand why. It’s as immensely likeable as Mr Rogers himself, yet it doesn’t feel very substantial.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

I think, I ruminate, I plan.

The Avengers 6.5: Get-A-Way
Another very SF story, and another that recalls earlier stories, in this case 5.5: The See-Through Man, in which Steed states baldly “I don’t believe in invisible men”. He was right in that case, but he’d have to eat his bowler here. Or half of it, anyway. The intrigue of Get-A-Way derives from the question of how it is that Eastern Bloc spies have escaped incarceration, since it isn’t immediately announced that a “magic potion” is responsible. And if that reveal isn’t terribly convincing, Peter Bowles makes the most of his latest guest spot as Steed’s self-appointed nemesis Ezdorf.