Skip to main content

You could crush them like bugs.


The Fantastic Journey
5. A Dream of Conquest

A Dream of Conquestis yet another episode where a corrupt leader needs tasking. Special guest star John Saxon warmongers while a hideous furry pig dwarf is filled with hideous furry pig love for Sil-El. McDowall appears to have fully supplanted his co-stars, as yet again he takes advantage of the episode’s juiciest material. It’s a good thing too, as there’s little nourishment elsewhere.

Willaway: It never seems to change. Not even here.

This time, the society encountered is from another planet (Matteran?) Consul Tarrant (Saxon) is planning to lead an army to victory over other zones (hence the title). He rules in place of the natural leader Luther (Robert Patten), who has been stricken with a seemingly terminal illness (we later learn that this was Tarrant’s doing, as was poisoned en route to Earth).

Little effort is made to flesh out this colony; presumably they are peaceable enough in their natural state, but the divide between the militaristic Tarrant and the approach of Luther is uncertain. It’s doubtful the army suddenly came into existence under Tarrant’s watch. And everyone seems to consider the hideous furry pig man to be a mindless animal, so there’s hardly a surfeit of enlightenment outside of Tarrant’s circle.

Perhaps surprisingly, Tarrant is courteous to the travellers (we’ll see this again in Turnabout), and instructs that they should be escorted to the boundaries of the next time zone. But, before this can happen, he has to reluctantly allow Fred and Varian to take a look at Luther (“And their fees are very reasonable”, jokes Willaway).

Yes, it's the hideous furry pig dwarf. 
Fortunately, he doesn't become a travelling companion.

Meanwhile, Liana telepathically communicates with the hideous furry pig dwarf (a Neffring). Willaway, always surprising in his motivations, attempts to inveigle himself with Saxon. The reason he does this? A sexy lady (Lenore Stevens; she doesn’t appear to be Luther’s wife, maybe just his crumpet) is saddened by the war plans but knows there is only a chance of stopping Tarrant if the secret location of the army is discovered (yes, it’s all rather thin). Willaway, the charmer, says he will get the information but on the condition that, “… would you promise never to frown again?

Willaway: Best we had was a bomb, based on a thermo-nuclear principle.

Willaway playing Tarrant’s stooge is a lot of fun. It gives him a chance to show off his knowledge and simultaneously piss of Tarrant’s Number Two, Argon (Morgan Paull), as he appeals to Tarrant’s vanity.  McDowall has a run of humorous dialogue. “I don’t like to take the full credit”, he comments of the creation of the atomic bomb. He also dismisses his friends with “Oh, they are an idealistic group”. And he and old pro Saxon play off each other enjoyably; they’re complementary opposites in demeanour, so every scene featuring the pair is lively.

Didn't we see these guns last week?

The problem is, Saxon is stuck working with a wafer-thin character. Tarrant is bad because he is bad. He wants to wage war because that’s the kind of thing he does. This is the kind of society that only exists on the page during the day the travellers visit it; no one has given it much thought.

Fred's playing doctor. Again.

Scripter Michael Michaelian is credited for the rewrites of Vortex. He would also pen the far superior Funhouse. Other credits include Logan’s Run, Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Martin-starring War of the Worlds. Aside from the Willaway element, and Saxon’s performance, this is a disappointing piece. Yet another episode where Fred and Varian are stuck practicing medicine, and a convoluted secret that needs to be revealed (I’m still not that clear why Tarrant needs to keep his army’s location a secret, given that power resides with him).

Varian: Willaway, was I mistaken about you?

Inevitably, the doctor’s plan falls apart when his friends inadvertently expose his game. His conspiring has not gone unnoticed, and the discussions of Willaway’s motivation provide the most continuity with previous episodes (Willaway also talks about the zones visited in the series, perhaps unwisely, informing Tarrant that they represent no threat). Fred refers to him as a “turkey”. Varian’s infallible abilities seem progressively on the blink as the series progresses (perhaps his less evolved chums are contaminating him? I’ve read that NBC got cold feet over his Jesus-like healing powers so faded them out). You have to groan as he and Fred slowly come to the conclusion that Willaway has been working undercover.


WillawayYou could crush them like bugs.

There’s a scene where cruel tyrant Tarrant uses the hideous furry pig dwarf for target practice. Evidently, it’s designed to elicit our sympathy for the beastie. But this grunting little booger is more of an irritant than a cute Ewok type. He’s just the sort of cheap creature design work you expect to see in a ‘70s series, where the producers know that aliens get the kids watching but are faintly embarrassed that they have to go there. 


Jared Martin was unbeatable at the 100-yard dash.

Still, on the plus side the sequence establishes that Katie Saylor runs very well.

Fred: I cannot imagine Willaway as 007, superspy.

Naturally, all is okay come the end. Despite the series’ overt moralising, it seems that it is acceptable for the hideous furry pig dwarf to exact (underwhelming) mortal revenge on Tarrant. Hooray! One also gets the impression the Neffring would get a little too intimate with Sil-El, given half the chance. Fred cures Luther of his leukaemia-like condition with a blood transfusion. Hooray! Acceptable order is restored.

A totalitarian regime, or just misunderstood?

Willaway: Ah, the generals. They are numerous but not good for much.

At least Willaway furnishes the week’s moral in a classical context, quoting Aristophanes’ The Acharnians. It slightly makes up for the general lack of sophistication throughout. As for Sil-El, I’m a huge fan (and of his owner); he has a good showing, better than most of his companions Unfortunately the poor pussy is frequently mauled by the hideous furry pig dwarf.


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…

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

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…

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…

Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up.

Dark Star (1974)
(SPOILERS) Is Dark Star more a John Carpenter film or more a Dan O’Bannon one? Until the mid ‘80s it might have seemed atypical of either of them, since they had both subsequently eschewed comedy in favour of horror (or thriller). And then they made Big Trouble in Little China and Return of the Living Dead respectively, and you’d have been none-the-wiser again. I think it’s probably fair to suggest it was a more personal film to O’Bannon, who took its commercial failure harder, and Carpenter certainly didn’t relish the tension their creative collaboration brought (“a duel of control” as he put it), as he elected not to work with his co-writer/ actor/ editor/ production designer/ special effects supervisor again. Which is a shame, as, while no one is ever going to label Dark Star a masterpiece, their meeting of minds resulted in one of the decade’s most enduring cult classics, and for all that they may have dismissed it/ seen only its negatives since, one of the best mo…

Ruination to all men!

The Avengers 24: How to Succeed…. At Murder
On the one hand, this episode has a distinctly reactionary whiff about it, pricking the bubble of the feminist movement, with Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. On the other, it has Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. How to Succeed… At Murder (a title play on How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying, perhaps) is often very funny, even if you’re more than a little aware of the “wacky” formula that has been steadily honed over the course of the fourth season.

You just keep on drilling, sir, and we'll keep on killing.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
(SPOILERS) The drubbing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk received really wasn’t unfair. I can’t even offer it the “brave experiment” consolation on the basis of its use of a different frame rate – not evident in itself on 24fps Blu ray, but the neutering effect of the actual compositions is, and quite tellingly in places – since the material itself is so lacking. It’s yet another misguided (to be generous to its motives) War on Terror movie, and one that manages to be both formulaic and at times fatuous in its presentation.

The irony is that Ang Lee, who wanted Billy Lynn to feel immersive and realistic, has made a movie where nothing seems real. Jean-Christophe Castelli’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel is careful to tread heavily on every war movie cliché it can muster – and Vietnam War movie cliché at that – as it follows Billy Lynn (British actor Joe Alwyn) and his unit (“Bravo Squad”) on a media blitz celebrating their heroism in 2004 Iraq …

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984)
If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delightsmay well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisions may be vie…

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983)
(SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. That doesn’t mea…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…